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

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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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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