A sweet adventure that celebrates the wisdom of young and old generations.

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THE GIRL IN THE BLUE TIE-DYE SHIRT

A MUD STREET MISFITS ADVENTURE

This middle-grade novel tells the story of a musically talented young man who hits his head, gains a strange ability, and draws his friends into a mystery.

In the small town of Ozark, Liam MacLeod and his best friend, Connor Harrison, ride their bikes to Ashford Park. Liam crashes and ends up with five stitches in his temple. Later, in school, he suffers a headache during a test, which heightens his stress over a school orchestra dress rehearsal. He also must deal with bullies Dylan, Kaylee, and Brandon. Despite these distractions, Liam plays bass well during the rehearsal, and his teacher, Mr. Walsh, nominates him for the Musicians Honors Performance Program. After school, on Mud Street, Liam and his sister, Molly, head to Connor’s house to hear a new vinyl record that his uncle gave him—the Allman Brothers’ 1972 album “Eat a Peach.” While listening, Liam holds the used album’s sleeve—and somehow, he’s briefly transported to a different bedroom with “wood-paneled walls and dirty red carpet.” There, he sees a crying girl in a blue, tie-dyed shirt—just before finding himself back at Connor’s place. Liam begins researching extrasensory perception and hears a story from his dad, Lloyd, about a spectral visit that he received from his own grandmother just before she died. Curiosity becomes fright, however, when the sobbing girl again appears to Liam during orchestra practice. Connor suggests that the Mud Street gang should track down the record’s previous owner—Greg Ortman, who wrote his name on the sleeve—to solve the puzzle. For their nostalgic debut, authors O’Dell and Lauderdale craft a musical mystery that will appeal to children and adults. Though clearly set in modern times (Liam uses Google and Wikipedia), the kids experience an idyllic childhood with bike rides, engaged parents, and secret missions into a nearby city. In total, there are five Mud Streeters, including Liam’s classmate Sarah and her younger brother, David, yet the narrative doesn’t attempt to give everyone equal time, instead choosing to focus on Liam and Connor. This is a wise decision that makes for an exceptionally well-paced story. Side characters, such as Cora, a psychic expert and the owner of a shop called Cora’s Crystals, appear briefly but memorably; she intriguingly tells the kids, “I didn’t realize it was already Wednesday,” as if she was expecting their visit. The authors also grasp that their audience may have a nascent interest in both scientific and supernatural phenomena, and they offer great jumping-off points for further research, as in the line, “matter on a subatomic level exists essentially as vibration.” Parents will be tickled by mentions of the rock band Rush and 1970s radio hits, such as Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” However, they may be less enthusiastic about the kids’ dangerous overnight undertaking in the tale’s final third. Nevertheless, most readers will reach the end wanting to get to know the Mud Street Misfits better.

A sweet adventure that celebrates the wisdom of young and old generations.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 110

Publisher: Mud Street Misfits LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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