Short but cogent stories that stimulate as often as they educate.




Clovis (Quantum Leaps in Princeton’s Place, 2015, etc.) continues her fictionalized tales of residents, university students, and faculty in Princeton, New Jersey, as they endure and battle discrimination throughout history.

Many of the real-life people portrayed in this book have harrowing back stories. Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, for example, once enraged the Mafia with his bestselling tell-all book, but now he’s free from constant fear as a teacher at Princeton University. Most others face racism, including the author’s daughter, Michaela, who recalls schoolteachers treating her unfairly. Clovis uses different voices to provide social context, as in a lengthy section featuring Michelle Obama, who attended Princeton in the 1980s; in it, the author quotes the first lady’s 2016 New Hampshire speech in support of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which discusses bigotry as well as sexism. It’s a startling piece about intolerance at the highest levels and mirrors a later chapter, in which university students in 2015 stage a protest to have Woodrow Wilson’s name removed from the school. The former U.S. president, the author says, was not only in favor of segregation, but also discouraged African-Americans from applying to Princeton when he was head of the university. Throughout, Clovis advocates examining history in order to bring about social change. For example, in 1992, District of Columbia public defender Robert Wilkins was pulled over on suspicion of drug trafficking by Maryland cops (which Clovis faintly links to Princeton via a somewhat similar case); Wilkins’ ensuing lawsuit was both a triumph and a landmark, requiring the state of Maryland to maintain detailed records of traffic stops. The book touches on other unsettling subjects, such as the story of the infamous Menendez brothers; they were convicted of murdering their parents, whose graves are in Princeton Cemetery. One of the best stories, however, relates to Sept. 11, 2001: on her daily train rides to New York City, Clovis noticed that some of her fellow commuters were suddenly gone after the terrorist attack, their fates unknown. This section provides a showcase for the author’s remarkable prose: “I could hear my footsteps echo against the damp cement walkway as I rushed to the train. The echo reminded me of the fear behind me and being alone. Death.”

Short but cogent stories that stimulate as often as they educate.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5043-7371-5

Page Count: 108

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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