The book opens with Seena on trial in a native African court for Dick’s murder and works its way back to that point in a...

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AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY

Meldrum’s story about an anything-but-ordinary family in crisis stretches from the shores of a Michigan lake to the heart of West Africa.

The Slepys seem like a perfect family: Dad, Dick, is a pathologist who fell in love with Christina, who prefers to be called Seena, when he sat behind her in a college class. Their daughters, Mary Grace, Mary Catherine, Mary Tessa and Amaryllis, are both as similar and as different as siblings can be. The three Marys are blond and beautiful, as ephemeral as their Scandinavian-looking parents. But Amaryllis, known simply as Yllis, is not. Birthed in a blueberry field, she is dark, with blue eyes, and has a special gift that allows her to taste emotions and see souls. Dick, who rightly suspects he is not the father of his youngest child, suddenly decides he wants to move the family to West Africa. Seena argues against it, but Yllis detects that she really wants to go. Grace, who carries a secret with her, gives up college, and the entire family, including the devoutly religious Catherine, mean-to-the-bone Tessa and the family dog, packs up and goes. Soon they are caught up in odd dramas that include a pending marriage with a strange man, Catherine’s dive into anorexia and the growing chasm between Dick and Seena. Meldrum writes beautifully, but the characters are hard to like and care about. Dick and Seena are so caught up in their own personal dramas that they fail to intervene as the family falls apart. Yllis, who has sensed she is not Dick’s child, watches as her aloof, self-absorbed parents disintegrate in spectacular fashion in an inhospitable setting. But the family’s move to West Africa, the story of Clara, an old woman back in Michigan, and the trajectory of all their intersecting destinies make for some confusing, though interesting, storytelling.

The book opens with Seena on trial in a native African court for Dick’s murder and works its way back to that point in a colorful tale about people who don’t know how to communicate with one another.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5689-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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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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