Unlikely elements blend wonderfully in this eclectic adventure.

READ REVIEW

RIPLEY ROBINSON AND THE WORM CHARMER

This YA novel sees a wrestler meet the challenges of bullying and his crush’s strange hobby.

Seventh grader Ripley Robinson has just moved to Hidden Mountain with his family. At school one day, his only friend, Jasper, warns: “You never want to be the last one in the bathroom.” But Ripley lingers, and bully Dirk Heartley stuffs his head in the toilet and flushes. A talented wrestler, Ripley uses the back of his head to break Dirk’s nose. Ripley runs, hiding in a janitor’s closet. A girl named Geddy spies him and investigates. Ripley is instantly smitten by her freckles and quirky style. He learns from her about the town’s worm-charming competition, which consists of coaxing the creatures to the surface of a field. The team that charms the most worms wins clues to a secret treasure of $300,000. Geddy hopes to triumph so that she and her mother won’t have to move to Oregon and live with Grandma. Ripley wants to help, but he must also concentrate on wrestling, dodging Dirk, and grappling with being popular after busting the bully’s nose. Will Chet, the eerie janitor with a hook for a hand, add to Ripley’s problems or solve a few? Stricklen’s (The Heart of the Swarm, 2016) latest novel deftly balances romance, sportsmanship, and lessons in racism. When a girl named Dixie gives Ripley a jean jacket, it’s adorned with the Confederate flag (after her name), and he thinks nothing of it. Later, Ripley hangs out with Hawk, his African American wrestling teammate. In Hawk’s predominantly black neighborhood, Ripley feels white for the first time and is reminded that the Confederate flag represents slavery. The boys also have an escapade involving destroyed property that leads to Ripley’s learning that honesty is the best policy. The author gives sports fans plenty to love in the wrestling scenes, and music nerds will adore Geddy, who’s named after the band Rush’s singer. Stricklen skillfully weaves together numerous plot threads, though some readers may find the story arc focusing on an elderly black woman named Betsy Turner overly sweet.

Unlikely elements blend wonderfully in this eclectic adventure.

Pub Date: June 13, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Beachhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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