A careful, intelligent account of the personal motives behind historical events. Dramatic and instructive.

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GUN BALL HILL

A Revolutionary War historical from Cooney (Small Town Girl, not reviewed) portrays the rebellion unleashed by British atrocities in a small village in Maine.

William and Lavinia Mowlam were born and raised in New England, but they grew up thinking of Great Britain, though they’d never seen it, as home. Even after William was abducted by redcoats during the French and Indian War and forced into service as a guide for more than a year, he came home exhausted but not especially radicalized. Lavinia, however, never forgave the British for what they did to him and, now, grows to hate the mother country. With the encouragement of her brother-in-law John Avens, a Boston clergyman who moves in the same circles as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, the highly educated Lavinia begins to write anonymous articles attacking the Crown. Sedition is always dangerous, but who would suspect a farmwife in the wilds of Maine? Who, that is, except Loyalist merchant Samuel Leyson, who’d been shown the door when he tried to court Lavinia years before. Acting on a tip from Leyson, a party of English soldiers disguised as Indians attack and murder William and Lavinia and their five children at night in October 1774. The British will come to regret the atrocity, which turns an entire region against them. Lavinia’s brother, the ship captain Patrick Rousse, bends his energies to privateering and begins raiding British frigates and ports. John Avens gives up preaching and throws himself into the revolutionary cause. Most ambitious of all is the widow Winnie Goodridge, a local innkeeper who sets up a foundry on the old Mowlam farm and begins to produce guns and shot for the Continental Army. With the help of Patrick’s services as a smuggler and gunrunner, the Mowlam foundry becomes a decisive factor in the colonial uprising.

A careful, intelligent account of the personal motives behind historical events. Dramatic and instructive.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2004

ISBN: 1-58465-356-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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