Psychological seriousness adds depth to this romantic coming-of-age tale.

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JUST PRU

In this novel, an anxiety-ridden young woman finds new friends and inner resources after an apartment fire forces her to accept a neighbor’s hospitality.

Prudence Anderson—“just Pru”—25, unemployed, has just moved to Los Angeles. She’s a tall, big-boned size 16, as she tells us on Page 1. (Although the average American woman wears a 14, readers are to understand that Pru naturally considers herself too large.) As this novel opens, Pru is hitting every lonely-girl cliché: scraping ice cream off her flannel nightgown with a potato chip while watching TV with her cat. That’s when the fire starts. She and the cat escape, but the apartment is uninhabitable. Luckily, her young, cool neighbor Ellen, a playwright and director, offers to put them up. Home-schooled, shy and overprotected, Pru has a raft of anxieties; the death of her beloved therapist has made even driving her car a challenge. But in helping Ellen at the theater, Pru finds she has something to contribute—and in Adam, a handsome germophobe neighbor, she finds someone who gets her. Pru fights to resist her parents’ belittling bid to crush her independence. The Cinderella story is familiar enough, and some matters are made almost ridiculously easy for Pru; a vacationing neighbor with a huge closet of glam clothes wears Pru’s size and doesn’t mind sharing. But Pfeffer (The Wedding Cake Girl, 2012, etc.) makes wry use of the tropes by having Pru call them out from her favorite TV shows. For example, she’s wary of Blake, a charismatic actor and bad-boy romantic choice, because he reminds her of “Count Randall Blackstone, a scalawag of noble birth” from a TV series. Pfeffer also adds emotional layers; Blake is more complicated than he seems. Pru’s anxieties are genuinely crippling, and though Pru begins with a taste for the “heart-warming and inspirational,” by the end she appreciates Ellen’s dark, grim play.

Psychological seriousness adds depth to this romantic coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: March 2, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2014

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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