A solid debut set in the demanding world of high school distance runners, lit with pathos and humor.




A ninth-grade distance runner learns the meanings of loyalty, compassion, brotherhood, and self-reliance in Kenley’s lively debut coming-of-age novel.

When ninth-grader Sherman Kindle joins the cross-country track team at Pennsgap High School in rural Indiana, he has many more questions than answers. Why is his profanity-prone coach, Joel Viddstein, sleeping on the floor of the wrestling room? (It turns out to be only one of many crises in the coach’s dysfunctional life.) Can Kindle possibly keep up with teammate Adam Keane, who can easily run two miles in 10 minutes and 32 seconds? Can he also compete with his own annoying identical twin, Hyter? The stakes mount as the season unfolds, as their lowly team, the Snapping Turtles, goes up against the Ridgeline Salukis, a team so strong that it runs eight miles to a meet, wins, then runs all the way back to its school. Perhaps worse, the coach obsesses over what he calls “the loins” and forbids his team from having any sex during the season. In a hilarious exchange, Hyter says that he needs to know if he can still masturbate five or six times a day; “Son,” the coach replies, “I’m amazed you even have the energy to stand.” Set in an era when mullets and big hair ruled, the story often sparkles with the unique humor of adolescent life. For example, when rough-hewn team captain and senior Jeff Slade asks Kindle to hook him up with a well-developed freshman girl, Kindle agrees reluctantly but worries that she’ll be hurt. To scare her off, he tells her that Slade will spank her, tie her up, and keep her as his sex slave in the back of his van. “Sold,” she says with a purr. However, the narrative does slow occasionally when describing running technicalities that will mainly appeal to other runners. Just as the grueling regimen strengthens his muscles, Kindle matures as a character as a result of weathering conflicts, and just as his character arc rises as the plot unwinds, the coach’s falls in counterpoint. In the end, Kindle, the team, and their coach share a well-earned moment of grace that readers will feel they deserve.

A solid debut set in the demanding world of high school distance runners, lit with pathos and humor.

Pub Date: June 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-940595-22-1

Page Count: 276

Publisher: River's Edge Media

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2015

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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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