Perfect timing for a Scheherazade-style account of Cuban history.

THE DISTANT MARVELS

One woman's story of brutality, courage, tragedy, and love gets a roomful of Cuban refugees through a hurricane.

As Hurricane Flora approaches Cuba in 1963, 82-year-old María Sirena Alonso refuses to evacuate with her neighbors; she is seriously ill and does not want to be saved. But once the storm arrives, a soldier shows up at her door to load her on a bus bound for a shelter. Though she takes nothing with her except a small framed photograph of a little boy, she needs nothing more because her whole life is in her head: "I have a perfect memory. I remember nearly everything I've ever read or heard." Once installed in a room at the erstwhile governor's mansion with a group of women who will ride out the storm together—including an ex-friend whose dead son used to be married to her daughter—María Sirena begins to tell the story of her life, beginning with her birth to Cuban parents on a Spanish ship at the end of the 19th century. Her rebel father is jailed as soon as they reach shore; her resourceful, beautiful mother, Lulu, finds protection for herself and her daughter with another man. When Agustín rejoins them, they are swept into the war against the Spanish. Acevedo's third novel (A Falling Star, 2014, etc.) mingles the recounting of María Sirena's epic family saga, which ends with a heartbreaking confession, with scenes among the women at the mansion. One woman decides to make a break for it: "It is Noraida, swimming in the debris-filled water, her brightly dyed hair like streamers in her wake. We watch as she pushes aside a plastic cup, a sheet of plywood, an umbrella floating upside down and bobbing along." Such irresistible moments of rebellion and bravery define this tale.

Perfect timing for a Scheherazade-style account of Cuban history.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60945-252-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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