Storyteller Erian (The Brutal Language of Love, 2001) creates a hypnotic effect through her characters’ repetitive...

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TOWELHEAD

A tedious, fairly moronic take on the pubescent hormone surge, told by a 13-year-old girl.

Jasira, prosaically named after Jasir Arafat by her now-divorced Lebanese father and Irish mother, can’t help attracting men, with her 34-inch “boobs,” so-called by her sexually jealous mother, who sends her to live with her “cheap and bossy” father. But it’s even worse in Houston, where Daddy works for NASA and lives in a housing complex with a pool she won’t use because of the abundant pubic hair she’s embarrassed about, and where Mr. Vuoso, the father of the neighbor boy she baby-sits, gives her a Playboy magazine (she practices masturbation) and comes on to her. Her own father, Rifat, being an old-style Arab, “doesn’t like bodies,” is horrified by Jasira’s incipient womanhood, and forbids her to use tampons or to befriend a black boy from school, Thomas, who genuinely wants to have sex with her. Added tension simmers between Mr. Vuoso, who’s a rabidly patriotic military reservist (“towelheads” is his epithet), and Rifat, who bitterly resents the American war machine aimed at the Arabs. The story consists largely of unedited and utterly uninteresting dialogue that goes on and on to demonstrate how Jasira, who seems to have no will of her own, thinks (slowly). Given the meanness around her—from her petty but envious mother; her irascible father, who’s prone to strike her; and the manipulative and insulting Mr. Vuoso, her seething crush across the street—she receives little guidance as a sexual creature. Not even the cool and pregnant neighbor Melina, who senses the crisis and gives Jasira the progressive primer Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, is able to protect Jasira from herself—that is, from the explosive sexuality that’s entangling her and everyone around her in a kind of gruesome physicality.

Storyteller Erian (The Brutal Language of Love, 2001) creates a hypnotic effect through her characters’ repetitive dumbness—in a first novel that’s annoying and memorable.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-4494-X

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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