This inventive debut doesn’t imitate the traditional British academic comedy but, rather, forges an identity all its own.

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SAVE YOUR OWN

A 26-year-old virgin with a high IQ and low self-esteem learns that most of life’s lessons are taught outside academe’s ivied walls.

At the start of the fall term, Gillian Cormier-Brandenburg, a fourth-year doctoral student at Harvard’s Divinity School, receives word that her funding is about to be cut. The Zephyr Committee, which has paid for her schooling the past three years, believes her thesis proposal lacks academic rigor. For her dissertation, Gillian wants to interview individuals who have had secular conversions: moments of reason, clarity or nondenominational spirituality that have changed their lives. She just hasn’t found any yet. Her somewhat sympathetic adviser gives her three months to prove the committee wrong and suggests she visit a local halfway house for women, where she might find potential interviewees. Gillian follows his advice and in short order, the overworked executive director of Responsibility House has hired Gillian to be the night manager, which presents a steep (near-vertical) learning curve for Gillian, this being her first job—ever. The residents, all recovering alcoholics or drug addicts on parole, find it difficult to relate to the exceedingly short (Gillian has to stand on a chair to get anyone’s attention), often hyperventilating polymath in their midst. As her efforts to reform her charges—vocabulary games during dinner hour; group discussions on ethics—are subjected to withering sarcasm or complete disregard, Gillian finds herself also making no progress on her dissertation. And the uncomfortable fact of her virginity begins to interfere with her concentration the more time she spends among her worldly charges. Only when a handsome ex-con enters her life does Gillian begin to understand what part of herself a “secular conversion” might reveal. Brink has crafted an original heroine in Gillian, a half-pint, over-educated neurotic who finds the courage to let her heart override her overworked brain.

This inventive debut doesn’t imitate the traditional British academic comedy but, rather, forges an identity all its own.

Pub Date: June 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-65114-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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