A compelling journey of self-discovery with a voice that rings true.

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WHO SHE IS

In Byington’s debut YA novel, a girl faces obstacles as she trains for the 1968 Boston Marathon—including epilepsy, sexism, and her parents’ secret.

Faye Smith is 15 in the fall of 1967 as she begins attending another new school. This time it’s in Valencia, Florida, where her father now works in an orange grove. Faye loves running and hopes someday to teach physical education. A University of Florida track coach is impressed enough to scout her, but her parents quash her hopes; they’re also furious that her recent track-meet performance wound up on TV. They can’t call attention to themselves, Faye’s mother says, because her father was wrongly accused of doing something illegal. “Honey, college isn’t for people like us,” her mom also says. “We’re blue-collar workers.” In addition, she worries that Faye’s training could trigger another epileptic seizure. Faye becomes even more determined to run in the Boston Marathon, even after a bully tries to run her over while she’s running outside. Into the new year, Faye saves money and keeps training—but old nightmares and odd flashes of memory begin surfacing, including the image of a woman who seems familiar. Increasingly certain that her parents are lying to her, Faye starts to investigate the past. Along the way, she runs harder than ever toward the marathon—and the truth. In her debut novel, Byington offers a well-written, exciting story featuring an admirably resilient heroine who’s both strong and vulnerable, by turns. The South of the late 1960s provides an effective backdrop for Faye’s experiences; at one point, for instance, her volunteer coach, a black man, puts himself in real danger—simply by running with Faye and another white girl in public. Byington nicely balances the more dramatic events with scenes of Faye’s everyday teenage life—learning to drive and having a first date and first kiss. The novel’s secrets unravel convincingly, although Faye frustratingly ignores a letter that could have explained everything earlier. When the mystery is finally solved, the teenager shows herself to be thoughtful and mature about some very thorny matters.

A compelling journey of self-discovery with a voice that rings true.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-986281-84-3

Page Count: 276

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2019

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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