Freaky Friday meets The Natural meets a collegiate Any Given Sunday.

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WALK-ON

After a slow start, Mikels’ fantasy tale settles into a mostly satisfying read.

Hitting his 30s, Mike Wilson sees himself as a has-been who never was. All he wants to do is play football–as a high school student, he had the ambition and drive to be a great player, but he didn’t have the body or athleticism. So he puts away his childhood dreams and settles into a life as a family man. Then, a freak storm allows him to switch bodies with his 19-year-old cousin, Justin Chastain, who’s struggling to put his life together after a childhood surrounded by violence and drug addiction. Neither Mike nor Justin understands why the switch happened, but both accept their fates. After the violent murder/suicide that took the life of his parents, Justin just wants a place to belong, while Mike sees a chance to be the football great he always imagined he could be. It’s as if the Powers That Be are making things right. Mike’s determined to make his second chance count and goes from a position as a freshman walk-on player at the University of Oklahoma to a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in a single year. What he didn’t take into account, however, was how the switch would affect Justin, his wife and those he met as a football phenom. The narrative is at its best when dealing with the play on the field, but loses focus when it shifts to Mike’s off-field troubles. Too much time is also devoted to Mike’s point of view, causing the development of Justin’s tale to suffer. Though the life of a middle-aged insurance agent seems less exciting than that of a collegiate superstar, the former’s backstory proves extremely intriguing. While the football scenes are strongest, Mikels relies on them too much. In each game, Mike-as-Justin seems to see fear in the opposing player’s eyes, make an amazing defensive play, suffer a cheap shot and then badly injure the opposition. Cutting down on this repetitive structure would make for a stronger book. Unfortunately, the deus ex machina epilogue also chips away at its credibility.

Freaky Friday meets The Natural meets a collegiate Any Given Sunday.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 978-1-4134-0612-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2011

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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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