Valdes-Rodriguez lays on the irony with a trowel and makes the same points repeatedly: people with Spanish surnames come...

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PLAYING WITH BOYS

God has nothing on Valdes-Rodriguez—she created her first novel in a mere six days!

Touted as the Hispanic counterpart to Terry McMillan by handlers eager to cash in on demographics! Proud possessor of a legendary temper and deeply resentful of ethnic stereotypes that nonetheless made her a fortune! (The Dirty Girls Social Club, 2003, made the New York Times bestseller list and was optioned by Jennifer Lopez’s production company!) Now comes Valdes-Rodriguez’s second, set in Los Angeles, where Dallas-born Alexis manages a popular Mexican band called Los Chimpances del Norte and dreams of bigger things. Marcella, half-Dominican, half-French, and raised in Santa Barbara, is a gorgeous actress tired of playing whores and maids and still hoping for her big break. Olivia Flores, survivor of a childhood Salvadoran death-squad attack, lives in the racially mixed neighborhood of Echo Park and wonders whether she’s raising her young son right. Her philandering husband seems to have lost interest, perhaps thanks to Olivia’s dowdy appearance and Frida Kahlo–esque intensity. Burning question: Will Hollywood ever buy Olivia’s dramatic screenplay about El Salvador? Hell, no. Alexis has no luck convincing the powerful pinheads who rule movieland, but Marcella scratches up the cash to get the script produced via a financial connection with her creepy, child-porn-loving uncle—and chica, everything changes in a few implausible seconds. Looks like the threesome has the world on a string at last—but tragedy awaits! Alexis’s true love, Goyo, a Cuban-born music star, is shot! The culprit: a disgruntled journalist dumped by Alexis earlier in the story. Despite his whitey-white name and skin, Daniel Mehegan is a ridiculous wannabe who affects gangsta-pimp-hip-hop-star ways and walks while he cooks up a bogus tale of drug smuggling that implicates Alexis. Happy ending, though.

Valdes-Rodriguez lays on the irony with a trowel and makes the same points repeatedly: people with Spanish surnames come from different places (and they hate to be called Hispanic), American racism is endemic, and clueless white people never get the slang right.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-33234-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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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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