by Jodi Picoult

REVIEWED BY BOB MEADOWS

CRITIC'S CHOICE

FICTION

In her 14th novel, Picoult plays a risky game—a "What if?" with one of the nation's most painful tragedies. Centered around a Columbine-like school shooting, the book jumps between characters and time periods, making us care as much for the shooter, Peter Houghton, as for his victims. Peter, whose small stature and propensity for speaking "Martian" render him an outcast, is a target from day one: On his first bus ride to school, bullies toss his prized Superman lunchbox out the window. His parents try to help, but when his doting mom threatens punishment if he keeps backing down, Peter prepares to be grounded rather than take a stand against his tormentors. His only friend snubs him, and when he confesses his love for her, her new pals push him too far. After murdering 10 classmates in a 19-minute rampage, he offers a terse explanation: "They started it."

Nearly eight years after two students killed 13 people at Columbine High School, are readers ready for a fictional account? Those who are will find Nineteen Minutes a brilliantly told tale—one that dares to remind us that someone loved the killer too.
[STARS 4]

by Susan Coll

REVIEWED BY JOANNE KAUFMAN

FICTION

Pay attention, students. This will be on the final. Name the smartest, funniest novel in the growing genre of "app lit," books about the college admission process. Is it a) Academy X; b) Jane Austen in Scarsdale; or c) Acceptance? You chose c? Go to the head of the class. Coll's third novel follows the fortunes of Yates College, a small, undistinguished institution that by dint of a statistical error has made it to the list of top colleges chosen annually by U.S. News & World Report. Applicants include sulky Taylor, who's burdened by low SAT scores and a hilariously intrusive mother; beautiful, underachieving Maya; and A.P. Harry, so named because of the extraordinary number of advanced placement courses he's taken to impress the folks at Harvard. Harry is so obsessed that he's memorized the U.S. News rankings and often asks his mother, the novel's sole voice of reason, to quiz him on them. Acceptance follows the three students from their first college visits to the sealing of their fates in the spring of senior year, intercutting their travails with those of Yates's beleaguered admissions director. This is a loony business, Coll makes clear, and she sympathizes with almost everyone caught in the undertow. Acceptance runs out of steam a bit by the end, but it's still grade A.
[STARS 3.5]

by Dinaw Mengestu

REVIEWED BY FRANCINE PROSE

NOVEL

Sepha Stephanos, the hero of 28-year-old Dinaw Mengestu's engaging first novel, has run a grocery store in an inner-city neighborhood in Washington, D.C., for 17 years. A refugee from war-torn Ethiopia, Sepha spends his spare time with his African friends Kenneth and Joe, drinking, telling tall tales about the former dictators who ruled the continent they escaped, and analyzing the locals. (American men, Kenneth decides, "are so successful because they say the same thing over and over.... Every day my boss comes in, and he says to me, 'You still fighting the good fight, Kenneth?'") But when a white woman named Judith and her daughter fix up a house and move in next door, their presence (and the gentrification that it signals) creates a disturbance on the block—and troubles the peace that Sepha has made with his uneventful, lonely life. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is a tender, thoughtful novel that quietly takes on serious themes: the meaning of home and family, of nationality and exile, of isolation and connection.
[STARS 3.5]

>Impressed by the graphic novel Picoult included within 2006's The Tenth Circle, DC Comics asked the novelist to write the superheroine's next five-part epic. The first is out this month.

ARE YOU A FAN? My 13-year-old son is. And I can relate—she's a euphemism for women who juggle everything. I've heard for years, "You're a bestseller and you have this great family—how do you do it?"

WHAT'S NEW ABOUT YOUR WONDER WOMAN? I've tried to make her more relatable. I wanted to get rid of that bustier but DC wouldn't. Any woman knows you'd never fight crime in one of those.

HAS SHE CHANGED YOU? I'm really good at her battle pose—the one she does with those fabulous bracelets. I do it at readings now. I'm still waiting on DC to ship me a tiara and red boots.

>DANIEL TAMMET, AUTISTIC SAVANT

He sees numbers as colors and can perform advanced mathematical calculations in an instant. But Tammet's most extraordinary gift may be his ability to tell the rest of us how that feels. From his bestselling memoir, Born on a Blue Day: "Emotions can be hard for me to understand or know how to react to, so I often use numbers to help me. If a friend says they feel sad or depressed, I picture myself sitting in the dark hollowness of number 6 to help me experience the same sort of feeling.... If I read in an article that a person felt intimidated by something, I imagine myself standing next to the number 9. Whenever someone describes visiting a beautiful place, I recall my numerical landscapes and how happy they make me feel inside.... Numbers actually help me get closer to understanding other people."

  • Contributors:
  • BOB MEADOWS,
  • BETH PERRY,
  • JOANNE KAUFMAN,
  • FRANCINE PROSE.