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The optimistic decade : a novel
2018
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  New York Times Review

BRUCE LEE: A Life, by Matthew Polly. (Simon & Schuster, $20.) Among the first serious treatments of the martial arts star, this definitive biography follows Lee's move from America to Hong Kong and back again, his time as a child star in Asia, the reverse racism he experienced and his rise to prominence in the United States. Above all, Polly explores how Lee's fame helped reshape perceptions of AsianAmericans in the United States. THE OPTIMISTIC DECADE, by Heather Abel. (Algonquin, $15.95.) A back-to-the-land summer camp attracts a charismatic leader and a bevy of followers, who encounter the limits of their ideals in the Colorado desert. Our reviewer, Zoe Greenberg, called Abel "a perceptive writer whose astute observations keep the book funny and light even under the weight of its Big Ideas." INDIANAPOLIS: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man, by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. (Simon & Schuster, $18.) Nearly 900 people died when the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a Navy cruiser, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1945, but the story has long been incomplete. Vincent, a Navy veteran, and Vladic, a filmmaker, offer a fuller view of the episode. FRUIT OF THE DRUNKEN TREE, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. (Anchor, $16.) Drawing on the author's own experiences, this debut novel describes life in Escobar-era Colombia. Narrated by a young girl, Chula, and her family's maid from a nearby slum, the story captures the despair, confusion and chaos as the country's conflict raged. Our reviewer, Julianne Pachico, praised the book, writing, "You don't need to have grown up in Bogotá to be taken in by Contreras's simple but memorable prose and absorbing story line." DON'T MAKE ME PULL OVER! An Informal History of the Family Road Trip, by Richard Ratay. (Scribner, $17.) This playful account conjures up the era before air travel was within reach for many American families, and explores how the Interstate transformed people's relationship to the country. Part history, part memoir (Ratay recalls with fondness trips from his own childhood), the book is a love letter to the 1970s. A LUCKY MAN: Stories, by Jamel Brinkley. (Public Space/Graywolf, $16.) A finalist for the National Book Award, this collection explores race, class and intimacy in the lives of black men. In the title story, a man whose wife seems to have left him examines his expectations of what the world owes him, what he feels he can take from others and what it would mean if his good fortune ran out.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Abel's politically and psychologically acute debut follows an inexperienced camp counselor, a teenaged camper, and an idealistic and self-deluded 20-something camp director through a summer of changes at a tiny, hippie-flavored camp in the high desert of Colorado in 1990. Caleb, who founded the camp several years earlier, has settled into a routine of introducing rich city and suburban kids to the wild and basking in their admiration. His cousin Rebecca, a student at Berkeley, is, despite her objections, shipped off to the camp by her father to be a counselor for the summer. The only saving grace is the presence of high school junior David, Rebecca's childhood friend and secret crush. As David attempts to convince a distracted Caleb to allow him to live at the camp year-round and Rebecca is shaken to discover problems with her family back home, the camp is threatened by the son of the former owner of the property it's on, who feels that Caleb has betrayed his family. Abel combines a wry sense of humor with compassion towards all of her misguided characters. A strong sense of time and place anchors the story, and Abel's well-crafted plot brings all the strands of the story together into a suspenseful yet believable conclusion. Without landing heavily on any political side, and without abandoning hope, Abel's novel lightly but firmly raises questions about how class and cultural conflicts play out in the rural West. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  School Library Journal Review

In this novel set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Caleb, a dashing young Easterner, longs to create a camp where kids can live simply, work, and enjoy the outdoors. With a loan, he buys a Colorado ranch during a real estate bust. He has the charisma of a cult leader and succeeds in attracting residents, despite a lack of training and the terribly hot summer climate. Rebecca, a new counselor, comes from a family of idealists who publish a weekly paper pointing out the faults of the Reagan and Bush administrations. She has grown up attending rallies and carrying picket signs. At the camp, she is surprised to see that David, a boy whom she considered a nerd back home, is popular with the girls. Teens will be involved in their romance as they discover each other's charms. Tension mounts when the local ranchers demand their land back, and the contrast between the conservative locals and the idealistic camp staff is well described. VERDICT This is an excellent coming-of-age tale with a sympathetic cast of characters. For teens who want a realistic, romantic, and thought-provoking story.-Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Summary
"Abel is a perceptive writer whose astute observations keep the book funny and light . . . An exploration of the limits of idealism . . . subversive." -- The New York Times Book Review A smart and sly story about a utopian summer camp, a charismatic leader, and the people who are drawn to his vision, The Optimistic Decade follows four unforgettable characters and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it.<br> <br> There is Caleb, founder of the back-to-the-land camp Llamalo, who is determined to teach others to live simply. There is Donnie, the rancher who gave up his land to Caleb and who now wants it back. There is Rebecca, determined to become an activist like her father and undone by the spell of both Llamalo and new love. And there is David, a teenager who has turned Llamalo into his personal religion. <br> The Optimistic Decade brilliantly explores love, class, and the bloom and fade of idealism, and asks smart questions about good intentions gone wrong.
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