Foreword Reviews

Nirvana Is Here

2019 INDIES Winner
Bronze, LGBTQ+ (Adult Fiction)

Ari Silverman’s violent encounter with a neighborhood boy leaves him questioning himself in Aaron Hamburger’s Nirvana Is Here, a coming-of-age novel set outside Detroit amid the rise of grunge. It is a nostalgic, wrenching depiction of a youth in crisis whose sensitive, unsparing movements spark with realism.

The novel begins in Ari’s present. An openly gay professor, he’s about to meet a high school classmate, Justin, whom he hasn’t seen in years. The prospect sets off bittersweet memories of the early 1990s, when a teenaged Ari—white, Jewish, suburban, and recovering from the attack—met Justin, a black scholarship student from Detroit. But his friendship with Justin grew complicated when the boys realized their expectations differed. The place where they left off becomes an anticipatory space that Ari imbues with significance.

Flashes of the past intersperse with Ari’s adulthood, allowing the events that shaped him to fully manifest their effects over time. Amid pieced-together revelations, snapshots of prep school life, his parents’ attempts to get Ari to move forward, therapy, doubts, and sexual exploration, there’s a poignant depiction of a boy struggling to reenter life after withdrawing in fear. Music and art are Ari’s rich safety net, and they give him a sense of an identity.

This gritty portrayal of adolescence and its cruel secrets highlights the damage that people inflict on each other, yet it’s its tender mercies that stand out: friends, a trip to France, a well-timed word. Despite complications, which range from the threat of his assailant’s reappearance to anxiety about being outed before he’s ready to claim being gay, Ari finds his own voice.

A tender self-reckoning, Nirvana Is Here brings the past full circle. Hamburger deftly reveals how incidents recede—even if they leave their mark—to bring new hopes into focus.

Reviewed by Karen Rigby

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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