Preppy murder mystery meets coming-of-age story—with lots of sailing.

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THE STARBOARD SEA

Troubled teenage boy hopes for a fresh start after transferring to a third-rate New England prep school.

Blessed with a stunning oceanfront view and populated by an assortment of screw-ups from America’s wealthiest families, Bellingham is Jason Prosper’s last chance. At least it is if—like the other men in his very rich family—he wants to attend Princeton. Still mourning the loss of his best friend, Cal, who hung himself at their previous boarding school, Jason struggles with considerable guilt. The boys were sailing partners and secret lovers, and Cal died after a falling out between the two. Ambivalent about even getting on the water without Cal, Jason quits the Bellingham sailing team after almost drowning a fellow student, Race, during a training exercise. He instead fixates on Aidan, a fragile redhead from California who the other boys have taken to calling “Hester” in reference to The Scarlet Letter. Aidan, who has reason to believe she might be the illegitimate daughter of movie star Robert Mitchum, has plenty of issues of her own, but she responds well to Jason’s kindness and the two begin a fledgling romance. But after a hurricane, she goes missing, and is found dead of an assumed suicide. Sensing that she would not have taken her own life, Jason attempts to retrace her last night—leading to several harsh discoveries and considerable soul-searching of his own dark heart (and ambiguous sexuality). Meanwhile, Jason’s estranged parents and shady financier older brother provide minimal emotional support. Set against the backdrop of the 1987 stock-market collapse, Dermont’s confident debut novel almost works as a swan song for a lost gilded age. But her insular, sociopathic characters and emotionally removed 18-year-old narrator do little to engender sympathy—or interest.

Preppy murder mystery meets coming-of-age story—with lots of sailing.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-64280-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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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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