A mesmerizing tale of racial inequality and sexual discovery.



In this debut novel, a trio of black teenagers grapples with racial prejudice while a serial killer preys on black children in Atlanta. 

Teens Santos, Luq, and Dion spend much of their days together “wilding out,” trying to pass the time and hustle up some cash. All three of them are perennially strapped for money—Dion, who dresses up like a girl and refers to himself as a lady, turns tricks with men for meager payouts. Santos makes regular visits to a clinic to participate in an experimental initiative that’s eerily similar to the infamous Tuskegee Experiment, darkly and poignantly depicted by Ambrose. At one point, Santos is reduced to fighting in a “faggot in a box,” a brawling match that pits one gay fighter against another, a debasement that fetches him an embarrassing $300 prize. Luq lives in a mostly white suburb—he’s one of seven black students at a high school of 435—and plans to attend the Pittsburgh School of Design after he graduates. Unlike Santos and Dion, he’s deeply conflicted about his sexual identity and a virgin, though he suffers sexual assault at the hands of men more than once in the story. All three wrestle with the burden of racial prejudice, are routinely treated with contemptuous suspicion by the police, and all but dismissed when they turn to officers for help. In his absorbing book, Ambrose hauntingly creates an atmosphere of dread and predation by continually referring to the serial murder of black children in Atlanta in the late 1970s and early ’80s, an epidemic of violent crime that reinforced for many the vulnerability of black communities. This isn’t a plot-driven novel, but the characters are richly drawn and the themes intelligently evoked. The writing swings between a poetically lyrical narrative and grittily authentic dialogue. An older black man, Silas, who still seethes with anger over his unwitting participation in the Tuskegee Experiment, affectingly describes the teens’ collective predicament: “The cops aren’t here to protect you. They here to protect the world FROM you. ‘Cause they convinced the world that we all criminals; ain’t got no value.”

A mesmerizing tale of racial inequality and sexual discovery. 

Pub Date: April 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9987993-9-1

Page Count: 314

Publisher: The TMG Firm

Review Posted Online: June 14, 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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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