Fans of magical realism à la Alice Hoffman will feel at home with this story.

The Tree of Life

Debut novelist Davis spins a time-travel story that features an unstoppable young heroine.

Charlotte, a Toronto fifth-grader, is a girl who dominates everyone around her by force of her determined imagination. She’s being raised by her grandfather Leo after suffering a childhood injury and the deaths of her parents, and he keeps a light hand on the reins of the stubborn but fragile girl. Her best friend is Henry, and one day, the two are hiding in the forbidden tower room of Leo’s house when his friend Gwendolyn comes to call. They hear her describe a missing brooch, carved with an image of a tree from Welsh legend, and then they’re suddenly whisked from their hiding place to 1939 Toronto. The elderly Gwendolyn is now Charlotte’s age—a snooty girl who’s splendidly equal to Charlotte in bossiness and quite uninterested in her unexpected guests. The children soon discover the adult Leo working in the family’s kitchen. It turns out that he’s time traveled before, and he tells Charlotte that she must accomplish a mission here in the past. She isn’t thrilled that her quest involves the unlikable Gwendolyn, but she takes to the adventure with aplomb. Henry also flourishes, finding boyhood in the 1930s much more congenial than its 1990s version. Charlotte and Henry aren’t always convincingly childlike, particularly in the book’s quirkier moments, but they effectively carry the story. Charlotte’s boldness and Henry’s irritated devotion will make young readers grin. The period history is detailed and intriguing, as well, and includes ugly glimpses of anti-Semitism half a world away from the coming war in Europe. The story of the brooch ties lightly into past world events as well as those of Charlotte and Henry’s own decade. A few plot threads remain unresolved, particularly regarding Charlotte’s rather vague back story and a subplot about a royal visit. Overall, however, Davis is a very engaging storyteller, and Charlotte is a wonderful creation.

Fans of magical realism à la Alice Hoffman will feel at home with this story.

Pub Date: June 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4602-6633-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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