A shocking tale of surviving abuse and living with its consequences.

TOUGH LOVE AT MYSTIC BAY

Sowden’s debut novel follows a woman who’s haunted by the traumatic experiences of her teen years. 

Grace is an accomplished chef living in Minneapolis. When she starts getting coverage on popular blogs, she panics at the thought of being interviewed, as she’d have to talk about herself and her difficult past. She already chain-smokes and practices jujitsu to help her cope with the horrific memories of her teens, many years ago. Her overbearing and difficult mother had arranged for her to be abducted by operatives of Epiphany Lake Academy, an expensive school for troubled high schoolers. Grace recalls the awful months in which she needed permission to stand, sit, speak, or do nearly anything else. At the academy, reading nonauthorized books, looking out the window for too long, and not properly confessing to past behavior were all punishable offenses that could earn violators time in “The Shed” with the school’s vile director, Crandall. Grace tried her best to deal with the disturbing therapy sessions and deplorable living conditions, but she soon learned that the school administrator had no reason to ever let her leave—and that all roads led to a mysterious second camp in the Dominican Republic called Mystic Bay, where some teens were sent to live in cages and endure further torture. Sowden excels at showing the long-lasting ramifications of these events on Grace as she alternates between past and present timelines; Sowden clearly shows how every aspect of the protagonist’s adult personality, from her interactions with co-workers to her reluctance to form friendships, has been altered by the horrible treatment she endured. The abuse itself is horrifying, and the author drives home the feelings of desperation and injustice; at several moments, it seems as if Grace has outsmarted the system only to end up in a worse position. Readers may be left with more questions than answers about Grace’s unstable mother, but the story still leads to satisfying and bittersweet conclusions about confronting one’s past. 

A shocking tale of surviving abuse and living with its consequences.

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947041-53-0

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Running Wild Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2020

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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