STARLIGHT PASSAGE

A spirited historical tour with bestselling Bunkley's customary tablespoon of sugar (Black Gold, 1994, etc.): The facts go down easily enough, but the lavender prose leaves a bit of a headache. Kiana Sheridan is a bright and attractive young woman with a single-minded purpose: To uncover the mysteries of her African- American heritage while in simultaneous pursuit of her Ph.D in history. When she leaves behind her comfortable high-school teaching job, her dead-end relationship (to an unambitious Gulf War vet), and her entire former life in Houston, Kiana doesn't look back; once in Washington, D.C., she begins recovering her family history by first learning all she can about her great-great grandfather, an escaped slave and the talented glass artist whose work has only recently become the enthusiastic focus of collectors. But there are obstacles standing between Kiana and her doctoral dissertation/pilgrimage: stepsister Ida, a con artist who was once jailed for credit card fraud, has reasons of her own for interfering with Kiana's goals (sheer greed being the primary motivation), and Kiana's own beloved grandmother Hester seems determined to bury the past forever. With the help of photojournalist Rex Tandy (the handsome, sensitive tour guide of the Underground Railroad Tour Kiana plans to take to launch her research) and a wise, maternal woman named Portia, Kiana eventually uncovers the dramatic truths of her ancestry—and also discovers her true inheritance. What befalls the conniving, hapless Ida, and the relationship that develops between Kiana and Rex, gives the narrative a necessary pace and tension; some of the discussions of reparations (regaining what whites have taken from blacks during the long history of slavery) is confusedly ambivalent—Kiana seems at first an unequivocal advocate but later bemoans the ``personal expense'' required of the mission to reclaim. Bunkley continues to overwrite, but, still, this is her best work to date. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-94009-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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