A piercing tale of lives broken by border violence.



A prop plane that crashes along the U.S.–Mexico border forces a family to confront the lawlessness and violence of life there in this debut novel.

Araceli, the matriarch at the center of this somber, gripping tale, lives by an orange grove in Harlingen, Texas, near the state’s southern tip. Undocumented and born in Mexico, she’s awaiting the return of her missing husband, as are her two sons, Uli and Cuauhtémoc. Cuauhtémoc invites Uli for a late-night flight in the farm’s crop duster, which crashes on the Mexico side of the border. Both survive but with injuries that trap them on the Mexican side, and they're soon separated. Alternating narratives among the three family members, Peña provides a window into the struggles of immigrants on the border as well as the violent drug war fueling the migration. Cuauhtémoc is pressed into service as a pilot making drug deliveries for one of the cartels. Uli searches for his father but winds up entangled in a local dogfighting ring and collecting scrap metal for money. Araceli, hearing of the crash, crosses the border on a fruitless search for her sons and ends up putting her mechanical savvy to use working in a shop mass-producing marijuana blunts. Blood and damage abound here, in both human and animal form, sometimes to grotesque extremes. (All-purpose construction glue seems a bad way to repair a bad face laceration.) But Peña isn’t being gratuitous, and though the narrative sometimes awkwardly gestures toward surrealism, it's marked more by the search for compassion and connection among the characters, most powerfully between Uli and June, the woman who takes him under her wing. Peña weaves in a few critiques about NAFTA and the United States’ role in the drug war, but mainly he keeps the story at ground level, which makes for bracing if discomfiting storytelling.

A piercing tale of lives broken by border violence.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55885-856-5

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Arte Público

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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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 modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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