An affecting YA novel that will linger in readers’ minds.

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ABSOLUTE VALUE

Henrik’s debut novel tells the story of two teenagers dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.

Nate Stanek is about to begin his junior year of high school, and he’s excited to be doing so with his first girlfriend, Gabrielle Brandt. They’ve been inseparable all summer, sneaking away to spend time together whenever possible: “He would never say this to Gabrielle—not cool—but he had it in his head that the two of them were sort of their own little family.” Just as summer ends, however, Gabrielle starts to act oddly. Nate figures out what’s wrong during a visit to the state fair; she vomits while on the Ferris wheel: She’s pregnant. Gabrielle, who’s still reeling from her parents’ divorce, is worried about what this will mean for her future. Will she go to college? Will she even finish high school? She’s certain that her reputation will be forever tainted. Nate is more worried about the reaction from his conservative Christian parents. The possibility of abortion never even enters his mind until Gabrielle brings it up: “I haven’t made my mind up yet, but I’ve been considering maybe…maybe not having this baby at all.” Nate initially reacts with anger, thinking that if a pregnancy would bring on the wrath of his parents, an abortion will get him disowned—but he ultimately agrees to stand by Gabrielle, whatever she decides. She faces her own troubles when she tells her family and friends about her situation; many react more judgmentally than she expected. Can the two high schoolers figure out a solution, and can their relationship survive whatever decision they make? The style of Henrik’s prose is breezy yet restrained even when she gets deep into the conflicting emotions of her two main characters. She depicts their inner voices in a manner that’s completely believable and yet also unexpectedly poignant: “He’d barely started figuring out who he was, and yet this tiny being inside Gabrielle already contained more of him than he even knew existed. And more of Gabrielle, too. How could she just throw that away?” The book is paced more slowly than most other modern YA novels, and it lacks any melodramatic tendencies. Instead, Henrik simply allows the teens’ situation to play out in an organic way. Nate is flawed but sympathetic, and Gabrielle is heroic without losing an ounce of verisimilitude. The latter’s interest in numerical facts—she writes a blog in which she discusses mathematical concepts, such as the Pythagorean theorem—becomes a motif of the book; it effectively illustrates how some decisions require one to use a cold calculus, as well as the limited solace that such calculations bring. The author seems to have no agenda other than to show how impossibly difficult such a situation can be for those involved. She delivers a book about hope, youth, innocence, the pain of first love, and how major trials in life seem to come far too early.

An affecting YA novel that will linger in readers’ minds.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4801-7901-1

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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