This gritty novel about the pain others can inflict provides an unexpected sense of hope.



A wry teacher creates controlled chaos in her high school classroom in this tragicomic novel set in Texas.

Ellie Warden is a perfectly named character. As a teacher in a high school behavior-modification unit, her responsibilities lean more toward prison guard than educator. Ellie’s students in the New Pathways unit (or, as she has dubbed them, the Narcissistic Praise-Junkies) are a group of troubled kids with learning and behavioral problems, including OCD and Asperger’s syndrome. Ellie is full of patience and tough love. She copes with the stresses of her job with a hearty dose of black humor: She privately nicknames the kids based on their disorders (Becca, who suffers from OCD, is The Count; Trevor, who has Tourette’s syndrome, is Twitch) and talks about their various disabilities with a faux insensitivity that masks her compassion. But in many ways, Ellie is just as much of a misfit as her students. She’s a single, 32-year-old virgin who still lives at home with her cat and her religious mother, who raised Ellie to be mistrustful of relationships and marriage. Her monotonous life changes instantly when a horrific school shooting involves one of her students—an event that leaves Ellie shattered, although it pushes her toward an unlikely love interest, Dr. Peter Harmon. Peter, the uncle of one of Ellie’s students, is a smart, successful veterinarian—and he has Asperger’s syndrome. It’s a joy to watch their relationship blossom in the aftermath of the shooting and in spite of the complications associated with his condition. Bennett beautifully portrays Ellie’s quick wit, sharp sense of humor and deep vulnerability, and she provides an exquisitely rendered look at living with Asperger’s. Heavy themes suffuse the novel—sexuality, religion, prejudice and death—yet Bennett artfully provides moments of levity and humor. Her characters are realistic, heroic and flawed. Don’t let the tough talk fool you; Bennett’s book has heart.

This gritty novel about the pain others can inflict provides an unexpected sense of hope.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1469924724

Page Count: 278

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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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