A quick and enjoyable sortie into the world of preteen family friendships and escapades.

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THE HEATH COUSINS AND THE MOONSTONE CAVE

Four children find enchantment while exploring a seaside cave in this debut middle-grade novel.

Twelve-year-old Addie Heath lives outside of London and isn’t looking forward to seeing her three rambunctious cousins again: Bodie, 6; Beanie, 9; and Jack, 13. They’ll all be staying at their grandparents’ beach house on the American East Coast. Spending time with her relatives would be bad enough. What makes it worse is that Grandma Winnie has died, and while Addie would prefer to be alone with her memories, she knows that her cousins will intrude on her sadness. The boys, for their part, are wary of Addie. To them, she seems aloof, and her accent makes her sound stuck-up. But Bodie’s excitement brings them together. When Addie dreams of a moonstone and Bodie finds one just like it, the cousins go exploring and uncover a secret realm linked somehow to their grandma’s past. Grandma Winnie was a Native American. Only Jack has inherited her looks, but all four children share an appreciation of her spirituality. When they find themselves in the Garden of Choice, with dangers ahead and only their family bond and a spirit wolf to protect them, Addie and her cousins must make peace with one another and with their grandma’s passing. Hobbs’ writing harks back to the days of Enid Blyton, with her multiage characters embarking on safe escapades while learning simple but important life lessons. The four Heath cousins are distinct in personality and speech and are vividly depicted across 10 black-and-white images by debut illustrator Parame. Addie’s love for her grandma is evident, as is her sense of loss, while her social conflict—she and the boys being forced together despite hardly knowing one another—is one that many children will relate to. The quest narrative itself is perhaps a little undemanding (the children have few genuine choices to make), but the Native American aspect lends it substance, and its value in any case lies in the forging of family ties. The gently adventurous story nips along at a good pace for middle-grade readers.

A quick and enjoyable sortie into the world of preteen family friendships and escapades.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5434-5422-2

Page Count: 74

Publisher: XlibrisUS

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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