A winning debut featuring the kind of witty, appealing good girl that captures readers' hearts.

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TEN GIRLS TO WATCH

A young woman gets the break of a lifetime at a popular magazine—now if only everything else (money, apartment, love life, entire professional future) would fall into place.

A sort of modern-day Mary Tyler Moore, Dawn West is trying to make it as a writer. Though countless novels have offered the same conceit—lives in New York, works in media, searches for Mr. Right—Shumway’s Dawn is a young woman of substance, and her trials are of more consequence than the search for the perfect Little Black Dress. After Harvard, Dawn moves to New York, but along the way loses her college boyfriend Robert and finds herself barely solvent. Robert, they’re “still friends,” invites Dawn to his family’s annual summer fete in the Hamptons, but joining them will be his new girlfriend Lily. At once, Dawn sees Lily is everything she isn’t: rich and cultured in an effortless way and most importantly, unfazed by Robert and his privileged imperiousness. At the party, Dawn meets Regina, the editor of Charm magazine, and this meeting lands her a job putting together a spread for Charm’s 50th anniversary of their "Ten Girls to Watch" contest (Charm is an indistinguishable stand-in for Glamour, where Shumway worked on their corresponding 50th anniversary piece for the “Top Ten College Women” contest). While in her new office (the storage closet) at the archives, Dawn meets Elliot, secret author of the magazine’s bachelor column. Sparks fly and they begin to form the kind of relationship that seems too good to be true. And then he doesn’t call and sends a fruit basket for Christmas. Meanwhile, Dawn is tracking down 50 years’ worth of remarkable women, some quite famous, whose stories fill the novel and offer inspiration when things get tough—her roommate disappears, her building burns down, Elliot is not what he seems, and Robert has ended their friendship. Never fear, our Dawn finds help in unsuspecting places.   

A winning debut featuring the kind of witty, appealing good girl that captures readers' hearts.

Pub Date: July 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7341-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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 love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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