A brutally honest depiction of prison life from an officer’s perspective and a cautionary must-read for any woman...




A female officer closely scrutinizes prison police work.  

Though billed as a novel in the subtitle, mononymous author Ajut’s introspective, insightful debut reads more like an intensive memoir. Her testimony draws heavily on her history as a former Atlanta area Department of Corrections officer in a maximum security state prison until her retirement. Throughout chapters detailing her inner-city upbringing with an abusive, alcoholic father coupled with her dehumanizing training regimen at the police academy, the author paints a largely unflattering portrait of a physically and psychologically grueling profession where “female visitors and children especially are calculated prey and become emotionally and psychologically trapped in this secluded world of coldhearted criminals, misogyny, and sexual objectification.” If an officer is hardworking, has integrity, and is morally sound, the author believes the prison system, its convicts, and its employees will seek to break down that benevolent foundation. The job indeed took its toll, as Ajut spent years struggling with stifling confinement, the nefariousness of corrupt peers, suicides of both prisoners and officers, and continual anxiety and fear. She dispenses dire warnings for women who enter the corrections arena that as “fresh new meat,” they will become targets for the mind games inmates and officers play. The insider details of prison life (both in men’s and women’s facilities) as a guard are extreme, eye-opening, and often difficult to read. Officers are unarmed except for batons while prisoners roam about unrestrained; there is rampant sexism, animalistic brawls between men, and relentless, antagonistic sexual overtures among women. A closing chapter of female inmate stories drives home prison brutality and desperation. Ultimately, Ajut was forced to fight regular feelings that she was “one step away from a mental meltdown.” Brazenly frank and written with an intensive sense of self-awareness and personal strength, the author educates with tough love while revealing the fetid underbelly of her former profession with the grace of a slam poet and the knockout punch of a professional fighter.   

A brutally honest depiction of prison life from an officer’s perspective and a cautionary must-read for any woman contemplating a security career.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5320-4340-6

Page Count: 196

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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