An endearing and emotionally satisfying exploration of race, family and friendship in trying times.

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THE SWEETEST HALLELUJAH

In a desperate bid, a dying mother takes out an ad in the paper and finds protection and love for her daughter from an unexpected source.

Former jazz star Betty Jewel Hughes expected her life to be different—and longer. But after her husband, Saint, squandered their careers and landed in jail, she came home to Shakerag, Miss., where she sang in the local blues joint and soon discovered she was pregnant with her daughter, Billie. Now, 10 years later, Betty Jewel is dying of cancer and her mother, Queen, is too old to take care of Billie on her own. Racial tension is heating up in the South of the mid-1950s, so Betty Jewel would be suspicious of any white woman responding to her classified ad looking for someone to take care of Billie, but Cassie Malone is especially problematic. After all, Cassie’s known for making trouble by questioning the status quo. At first, the part-time reporter and columnist for the local paper just wants to do an article on Betty Jewel and the ad. But the more time Cassie spends with Betty Jewel, Queen and Billie, the more she realizes the story is complex and layered, and she becomes invested in the dying woman and her family. However, neither community—Cassie’s nor Betty Jewel’s—is excited about a friendship between the two women, much less a proposed adoption. As secrets and unexpected connections are revealed, the women must fight for a special girl in an uncertain world. Hussey has written a lovely, poetic book about race, love, mothers, daughters and friends that navigates a spectrum of emotional minefields. With well-drawn, authentic characters and a lyrical writing style that occasionally gets in its own way, the story is sweet and hopeful, with impressive dialogue. A certain fairy-tale realism—similar to that of The Help, which this book will inevitably be compared to—makes the concept both believable and entertaining, if perhaps a little glossy given the true history of the racial tension of the time.

An endearing and emotionally satisfying exploration of race, family and friendship in trying times.

Pub Date: July 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1519-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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