A sharp, funny, and fast-paced (occasionally manic) first novel that takes us backstage in paradise—into the very heart and soul (and guts) of a working-class Japanese-American family on the island of Hawaii. The narrator is young Lovey Nariyoshi, and, as she herself might tell you, she one big haole wannabe. That's how Lovey talks, and that's how everybody she knows talks—except for haole teachers like Mr. Harvey who try, to no avail, to educate the Japanese- American kids out of saying dis and dat and wuz and cuz. Lovey's family is poorer than most—the book's title refers to her father's many schemes to find meat, including roadkill, to put on the family table. And Lovey's constant quest, once she realizes she can never have haole ringlets like Shirley Temple, is at least to have clothes that don't look laughably homemade. Along with best friend Jerome and, occasionally, her younger sister Calhoun, Lovey embarks on a series of misadventures all in the cause of a better life. These include such events as selling stolen marijuana cigarettes to finance the purchase of new Barbie and Ken dolls; getting caught up in the religious zeal of a crazed teacher who sees the devil behind every door; and spying on Jerome's brother in the throes of passion with his girlfriend. For much of the novel—too much of the novel- -these mishaps read like a series of hilarious but disjointed episodes. It's not until the third and final section that events and people are linked into a compelling narrative and we really begin to understand what Yamanaka, a Pushcart Prizewinning poet and short-story writer, is capable of. And though it's a risky undertaking to write a whole novel in dialect, it works here on the whole, the speech patterns resonating like poetry. Too fragmented at the start, but a finish that's more luminous than a Hawaiian sunset. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-374-29020-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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