THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS

A light tale of rebellious eighth graders set in a Savannah Catholic junior high school in 1974, written by a young Georgian who died of cancer as he was completing this, his only novel. Francis Doyle is part of a ``gang'' of fellow classmates and altar boys who are from troubled homes and are all too smart and too creative for their conservative school. Besides stealing from their parents' liquor cabinets and experimenting with pot, the gang rebels by creating blasphemous comic books. They're led by the undersized Tim O'Brien, who furthers everyone's education with banned books like William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Since they are about to graduate, the young outlaws come up with what they consider a fitting farewell, Sodom vs. Gomorrah '74, an epic comic book that shows the nuns and priests of Blessed Heart in wicked embraces. When the book is found by one of the priests, the gang is threatened with expulsion. Tim suggests that if they do something really drastic, say kidnapping a bobcat from a local nature preserve and releasing it in the school, the priests would forget about their relatively minor indiscretion. Complicating matters for Francis is that he has fallen in love for the first time, with a seventh grader with an equally turbulent past. But Francis goes along with his buddies as they try to capture a bobcat, with predictably tragic results. Fuhrman is especially successful in capturing the awkwardness of first love and the fierce, blind loyalties of pubescent boys. Despite these moments, little sustains the novel besides the young-adult plot and a simple theme of ``authority is bad.'' The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys shows that Fuhrman had much promise, and it is unfortunate that we will never have the joy of seeing his talents bloom.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8203-1632-6

Page Count: 187

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1994

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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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