An engaging and lifelike representation of two families at a turning point.

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THE BEND IN REDWOOD ROAD

Parallel stories explore the outcome of an unusual adoption from the perspective of mother and daughter.

Stewart’s (Saving Love, 2019, etc.) latest novel alternates between two women struggling with life-changing secrets. Gwen Fox is a 25-year-old graduate student pursuing a degree in genetic counseling. At birth, she was adopted by a loving couple who provided her with a wonderful upbringing. Yet in the middle of a seemingly normal morning, Gwen suffers a panic attack so overpowering that she requires hospitalization. In the subsequent weeks, she acknowledges a potent desire to discover the truth about her origins. Little does she suspect that her own biological mother, a woman named Leslie Laudon, is experiencing personal upheaval of her own as she gets ready to send her youngest child to college. Every decision in Leslie’s life has been made with the interests of her children at heart—even the baby girl whom she chose to give away. Yet as time marches forward, she feels increasingly that her needs are coming second to those of her dismissive and controlling husband. The circumstances of Gwen’s adoption are kept shrouded in secrecy until the very end along with a second, even more surprising twist. Stewart has a knack for creating rich, complicated characters. One standout is Leslie’s daughter, Kerry, who is defiantly vocal about the issues within her family and laudably supportive of her mother. The author treads carefully around the subject of adoption, respectfully noting systematic issues while preserving the emotional complexities of Gwen’s experience. Another intriguing feature is the romantic subplot between Gwen and Griffin, her brothers’ childhood friend. Having been raised in an abusive home, Griffin provides a unique foil to Gwen. Their innocent, upbeat chemistry deepens as they spend time searching for information about Gwen’s past. Stewart’s writing style tends occasionally toward the dramatic, as in this passage about Leslie: “It was hard to stuff it all down. It had always been hard. The ache radiating from her body was reminiscent of a bad sunburn. She was both hot and cold. Sensitive to the slightest touch. A tiny shift of her own body felt excruciating.” Regardless, the author has produced a fast and enjoyable read. The resolution is satisfying but leaves room for future stories. Fans will be eager to revisit the Fox and Laudon households for a sequel.

An engaging and lifelike representation of two families at a turning point.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68994-767-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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