A thought-provoking story about families and the animals who sustain them.



A single mother and her son raise a steer with hopes of winning a cash prize in the local 4-H competition.

Complicated relationships layer this story, set in the early 1950s in South Carolina. Sarah Creamer unexpectedly becomes a mother to the baby who resulted from her best friend's affair with her husband after her friend commits suicide following the delivery. Nearly seven years later, Sarah’s husband drinks himself to death, leaving her a single mother solely responsible for paying the family’s debts. Desperate to provide her son, Emerson Bridge, with food, Sarah makes a dress to sell to the wealthy Mildred Dobbins, wife of the cattleman and landowner Luther Dobbins. After Sarah reads about a steer winning $680 in a competition, she buys a calf from Luther in hopes that Emerson Bridge will win the championship the next year to raise their family out of poverty—and thinking that the calf would be a friend for her son. The young steer, Lucky, is soon joined in the Creamers’ yard by his mother, who broke through the Dobbins’ fences to find her calf. As Sarah struggles with how to be a good mother to Emerson Bridge, she looks to the mother cow, whom she names Mama Red, for guidance and also forms an unlikely friendship with Mildred Dobbins. The two families become further entangled since the Dobbins’ son, LC, is also raising a steer for the 4-H competition. Emerson Bridge and LC become friends and the stakes become even higher as Luther, who desperately wants his family to win the contest, turns increasingly violent and erratic. Through all of these connections, McClain’s first novel resists predictability and instead weaves together questions about poverty, class, violence, and religion as these two families question what parent-child relationships should be. The short, clipped sentences can make the story difficult to follow at times, but the language does help establish Sarah more fully as a character. Sarah's relationship with Mama Red sometimes obscures the development of other relationships, such as the one between Sarah and her landlord, and the ending perhaps reaches a bit too much toward a closure that the characters themselves won’t find.

A thought-provoking story about families and the animals who sustain them.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61117-746-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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