A lengthy first installment that sets up darker perils to come.

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THE VALLEY CHRONICLES

In this YA debut, siblings return to a fantasy realm to find fresh conflict brewing.

Since his parents’ divorce two years ago, 14-year-old John Jenson has lived with his father in Hunter’s Run, Maine. He dearly misses his 13-year-old sister, Violet, and can’t wait for her upcoming visit. While in school, however, he learns that she’s gone missing en route. The police find her backpack by a river in the woods near the bus station. Unlike his father and Officer Wilkins, though, John doesn’t suspect the worst. He believes that Violet can swim in river rapids because she did so two years ago in the Valley, a realm of magic and talking animals where he and she fought the foul Soldiers of Sorrow. In his memories, though, John isn’t completely sure that the Valley wasn’t just a hallucination that he and his sister shared. Then, as he investigates, a creepy old man points him to a rowboat on the river. When John hesitates, a tropical bird on the stranger’s shoulder says, “Just get in the darn boat and save us all a headache.” Meanwhile, Violet and her small white dog, Hodgey, wake up in the Valley’s Gateway Glade. They meet a deer named Ripple who informs Violet that a rebellion has broken out, and the Soldiers of Sorrow have returned. Selbrede merges idyllic fantasy trappings, such as the deer chief Boulder’s cave garden, and elements similar to those in comic books like Fables. He splits the chapters between John’s and Violet’s viewpoints, and within these chapters, he offers many glimpses into the siblings’ first visit to the Valley. The prose revels in teenage snarkiness and humor, as when John thinks, “I had been told about avoiding strangers, especially ones climbing trees in bathrobes.” As the narrative progresses, magical artifacts come into play, including the Ivory-Bound Book, which can reveal “the darkest secrets about oneself.” Tension comes from not knowing which human or animal characters might be possessed by the Soldiers of Sorrow, who embody traits such as jealousy, hate, and despair.

A lengthy first installment that sets up darker perils to come.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-329-60254-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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