Bleak, bleak, bleak, and made even less appealing by the staccato, movie-script syntax.

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THE BUDDHA BOOK

From American Book Award winner Rodriguez (Spidertown, 1993, etc.), a hyperbolic and deeply pessimistic story seeming to posit that the only ways Puerto Rican teenagers living in the South Bronx can distinguish themselves are by murder and drug-dealing.

High-school students Jose and Dinky are too talented for their tragic lives. Jose lives under the thumb of his overbearing stepfather, a burnt-out educator whose main concern is a prospective promotion to vice principal. Dinky, Jose’s best friend, lives in fear of his own father getting out of jail and again forcing him to be a crack-runner. The boys express their literary and artistic abilities in a photocopied comic book they have to publish because of their commitment to depict only true events—a risky idea in a community where the people whose secrets you spill would happily kill you. All this merely provides backdrop for two highly melodramatic premises: Jose has just drowned his ex-girlfriend in her bathtub, and Dinky has started an affair with a wannabe serial killer, Anita, who has offed five men in her quest to take the record for most murders by a woman. Now Jose and Dinky want to publish an issue of their comic book that depicts all six deaths. This way, Jose gets the respect he wants for killing his girlfriend, and Dinky gets to give Anita her sought-after notoriety. Their dilemma is how to publish the comic without getting caught. The author, however, has a dilemma of his own: how to make readers sympathize with characters whose main aim is bragging in print about remorseless killing. It is a dilemma Rodriguez never comes even close to solving.

Bleak, bleak, bleak, and made even less appealing by the staccato, movie-script syntax.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26299-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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