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AT RISK by Alice Hoffman (Berkley: $4.95)

September 03, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

Alice Hoffman's best-selling novel about a young girl with AIDS is a mawkish tear-jerker that attempts to put a socially acceptable face on the pandemic. As soon as her mother reflects in Chapter 1 that Amanda sometimes seems to be "made up not of flesh but of points of brilliant light," the reader knows the kid isn't long for this world. When she develops AIDS from a blood transfusion, her family must confront Fear, Ignorance and Tragedy. The reader must confront a lack of character development and basic writing skills. Subplots involving intergenerational conflicts and an incipient romance between Amanda's mother and pediatrician are left dangling, like the raveled strands of an old macrame hanging.

In America, AIDS has primarily struck intravenous drug users and gay and bisexual men. By ignoring the people whose suffering has been accorded marginal significance at best and giving readers the more palatable sorrows of a wholesome WASP family, Hoffman panders to the prejudices she pretends to challenge.

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