A bare-bones police story that never gets going.

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SWEET JUSTICE

Smith tells the story of a shooting victim who decides to become a cop in this debut novel.

Terry Woods, 22, works at a series of temp jobs that never lead to permanent employment. He lives at home with his workaholic mother, who harangues him to find a real career, and his teenage brother, Joe, who tries to shirk his own responsibilities. Things aren’t great for Terry, but they get a lot worse one fateful night when he’s assaulted by two men walking home from a KFC. Terry hands over some money, but it’s not enough for the muggers: “I hear two bullets being fired off and I feel one hit me in the chest and one bouncing off my right shoulder.” Terry survives the shooting, but the brush with death clarifies what he wants out of life. He decides to become a police officer in order to try to prevent such violent acts from happening to members of his Milwaukee neighborhood, which has seen its living standard deteriorate in recent years. Some people in Terry’s circle are suspicious of the police’s ability to treat African-Americans fairly, but Terry, who’s African-American himself, thinks that he can bring a degree of equity to the profession. When his mother gets laid off from work, he feels even more urgency to be successful, although difficulties at the police academy make him consider giving up. Terry must push himself in order to fulfill his dream and finally win some justice for his community, his family, and himself. Smith writes in a simple, conversational style that’s easy to follow. However, there’s sometimes a sloppiness to the prose that detracts from the overall reading experience, as in this repetitious line that also appears to be missing a word: “On the way to the club, we listen to [a] variety of artists and before we know it, we are arriving at the club.” Although the novel is less than 150 pages long, much of its text is wasted on wooden exchanges of dialogue that have nothing to do with the main plotline (“Larry Sanders had twenty-five points and seventeen rebounds.” “He has been playing some great basketball lately.” “If he keeps playing like this, Sanders might make the All-Star team.”) The story proceeds in this lethargic manner for most of its duration before finally attempting some narrative movement in the final pages. Much of the overall page count, though, is taken up with unnecessary accounts of Terry’s mundane tasks; although Terry is shot on Page 18, he doesn’t interview for a police job until Page 100. Overall, the book doesn’t fit easily into any genre; there’s not enough criminal activity to call it a crime novel, but the author doesn’t develop the characters or their motivations well enough to make it work as literary fiction. The ending is predictable and poorly executed, which will leave the reader with none of the emotional satisfaction that the book’s title promises.

A bare-bones police story that never gets going.

Pub Date: July 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1503048614

Page Count: 138

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2017

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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 love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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