A patchy, sensationalist tale that seems primarily invested in unsettling its readers.



A coming-of-age novel about a young man’s tragic family ties.

After 16-year-old Chester White got a girl named Shirley pregnant, he dropped out of high school to support his new family. Now 27, he hates his wife and is unsatisfied with his career as a jukebox and pool-table vendor. Shirley is unsettled by her hostile husband, but she finds some solace in raising their 11-year-old daughter, Patricia. One night, after Chester hears that Shirley publicly insulted him, he rapes Patricia in a drunken rage; the girl doesn’t tell her mother about the incident, but seven months later, she’s too sick to go to school. A blood test at the doctor’s office informs Shirley of the unthinkable: Her child is pregnant. She secures a late-term abortion for Patricia, but the doctor keeps Shirley out of the room when he performs his procedure. While Patricia is unconscious, the aging, childless doctor secretly induces labor; he then takes the baby home to raise and lies to Shirley about the infant’s fate. It’s a truly memorable setup for a novel. However, these initial details pass quickly; the bulk of the book is dedicated to the story of Patricia’s secret child, Logan. It chronicles his various trials and triumphs until he enters an elite boarding school at age 16 and meets his personal mentor—an attractive, older teacher named Patricia. Like all Oedipal stories, Moffatt’s (Beltway Justice, 2013) relies heavily on dramatic irony and a sense of destiny winding to a messy, inevitable conclusion. Logan is an intriguing protagonist who’s kind and loyal and has a strong sense of justice, and his occasional moments of violence and petty criminality will force the reader to question how much of Logan’s nature he inherited from his evil father. However, the author blunts this positive element with strangely truncated, staccato paragraphs (many are only a sentence long); redundancies (“Jack Reed started to hyperventilate anxiety”); rushed character development; and massive plot contrivances.

A patchy, sensationalist tale that seems primarily invested in unsettling its readers.

Pub Date: March 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59630-103-0

Page Count: 398

Publisher: BeachHouse Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 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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