A vivid, poignant story of a boy who learns to love.

A Rainbow Together

A young man takes a life-altering summer job in this debut coming-of-age novel.

With his Beatle-esque haircut and a shy, awkward demeanor, 16-year-old Davey Dodd doesn’t quite fit in at his high school, Newport Catholic, or anywhere else in his “rigidly monochromatic” Cincinnati community. But it’s the summer of 1964—the famous “Freedom Summer,” as the text none-too-subtly points out—and everything changes when Davey lands a job doing grunt work at the swank Sheraton Gibson Hotel. His co-workers, including a socially conscious receptionist, Janine Huber, and a maternal boss, Nancy Baioni, soon become his second family, offering him a welcome refuge from the often tense environment at home. But he forges his closest connection with Tony DeStefano, a handsome, artistic teenager. It’s clear that Davey’s interest in Tony is more than platonic, although a mixture of fear and guilt causes him to keep his feelings hidden. As the months pass, Davey tentatively begins to come to terms with his burgeoning sexuality, learning that, as Janine chides, “You can’t let other people stop you from doing what you know is right for you.” The novel gets off to a slow start, but patient readers will be rewarded with a sensitively told story of growing up in a time and place when difference was something people hid. Author Davies has an eye for detail that brings the midcentury milieu to life, but he wisely gives characters space to breathe within it. A fragment of an overheard conversation between Tony and his alcoholic father, for example, reveals everything that readers need to know about the boy’s home life, while the teasing remarks of Davey’s co-workers early on hint at the truth about his sexual orientation. Well-timed flashbacks, including memories of a childhood confessional scene and schoolyard bullying, are developed well enough to function as stand-alone short stories. Davies does draw a few supporting characters with overly broad strokes—Davey’s one-dimensional, shrewish mother, for instance, and a flamboyant gay couple from New Orleans who seem too over-the-top to believe—but that doesn’t diminish the novel’s overall power.

A vivid, poignant story of a boy who learns to love.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4834-5364-4

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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