A harrowing portrait of depression and the toxic legacy of abuse.

22 SCARS

When a teenager falls into a spiral of depression and self-harm, friends and family try to save her before it’s too late.

In this debut novel, a solitary teenage girl, dressed all in black, makes her way through the city to her friend’s apartment on a summer day. Amy is sensitive, quiet, and shy, with few close pals except for Bethany, an outgoing girl who is concerned that her friend seems depressed. Amy was close to another classmate named Jason, until he dropped out of school after his girlfriend became pregnant. As their friendship deepens, Beth discovers that Amy’s depression includes damaging actions. At times of intense personal stress, Amy cuts her arms and legs. Despite her attempts to connect with Jason and Beth’s efforts to help her, Amy slides further into a cycle of depression and cutting. Amy’s parents are bitterly divided over how best to help her; her mother encourages therapy, but her father believes her problems are a cry for attention. When tragedy strikes, Amy finds herself in an emotional free fall that culminates in hospitalization after cutting her arm. A new friendship offers her another opportunity for connection, but it may not be enough to save her from her depression. Meanwhile, a young couple fall in love after meeting at a party. Their marriage soon plunges into a cycle of addiction and abuse—a pattern whose effects last for generations. North’s book delivers a riveting and dynamic examination of depression and self-mutilation in a teenage girl and the lasting effects of abuse within a family. But the multilayered narrative approach is not perfectly seamless. Amy is a strong and sympathetic protagonist whose struggle with depression and cutting affects every aspect of her life, from relationships with family and friends to performance at work and school. Although her depression is primarily viewed through the lens of the people who know her best, her diary entries provide valuable insights. In one passage describing her love of black clothing and goth culture, she asserts: “I don’t know how to explain it other than there’s a comfort in misery, something dark and familiar and soothing, like feeling protected by shadow. No one can find me, no one can hurt me, no one can even see me.” The author utilizes a singular structure in telling Amy’s story. Most of the narrative is in the third person; however, chapters narrated by Beth, Beth’s father, a nurse, and two of Amy’s classmates supply additional perspectives on their efforts to help Amy. North’s novel also includes a parallel tale about a young couple whose marriage gradually disintegrates under the weight of addiction and abuse. The pacing of the couple’s story is intense as innocent domestic arguments gradually escalate into a shocking breach of trust, but the transitions between their tale and Amy’s are abrupt, and the characters are never referred to by name. While the couple are pivotal to the narrative, Amy’s story offers stronger overall character development.

A harrowing portrait of depression and the toxic legacy of abuse.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5467-0594-9

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2018

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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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