In her sympathetic if somewhat uneven debut, La Seur entices readers with impeccable prose imbued with a blend of romance,...

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THE HOME PLACE

A busy Washington lawyer returns home to sort out the details of her sister’s shadowy life and suspicious death.

When Alma Terrebonne receives word that her younger sister has died, she flies back to her hometown of Billings, Montana, and ends up shouldering more responsibility than she anticipated. There are no easy explanations for what happened. Vicky left her 11-year-old daughter, Brittany, in the early hours of the morning, and her frozen body was found hours later. The police find some physical evidence suggesting it may have been murder. Alma’s investigation reaffirms what's known around town: Vicky was a drug user who hung out with lowlifes and owed money to everyone; her own dysfunctional family, from her older brother to the aunt and uncle who raised her following the deaths of her parents, wasn’t immune. She even approached her grandmother about signing over mining rights to the family’s homestead to a seedy land agent, a man who threatens Alma when confronted. A part of the family for generations, the home place was built by her great-grandfather and represents to Alma comfort and memories of simpler and happier times. After law enforcement officers remove a drug dealer and remnants of a meth lab from the premises without taking standard safety precautions, Alma—apparently unconcerned about possible toxic contaminants—moves in with her traumatized niece. She plans to stay only a few days before turning Brittany over to her aunt and uncle’s care and returning to her job in Washington, but she becomes increasingly aware that her niece’s well-being is in her hands. During the course of their stay, she reignites a friendship with her high school sweetheart, Chance, and rediscovers long-dormant emotions. She also learns the lengths people will go to safeguard themselves and others.

In her sympathetic if somewhat uneven debut, La Seur entices readers with impeccable prose imbued with a blend of romance, nostalgia and suspense. There are plenty of enjoyable red herrings and tarnished characters, but some of the details lack credibility.

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232344-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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