A well-paced, deftly plotted science fiction tale that suffers from its undernourished characters.

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A TOXIC AMBITION

A group of friends struggle to incite a class war in this dystopian science fiction novel for young adults.

The earth is polluted to the edge of inhabitability 150 years in the future. Enormous, impenetrable domes dominate urban skylines, allowing a select few to live carefree inside what is known as the Inworld. Everyone else is damned to the Outworld, where they will surely die, at a young age, of an environmentally related disease. However, if an Outworlder wins the Fuse games (a sort of antigravity laser-taglike competition), they are recruited by the Caretakers (a brutally oppressive task force that polices the Outworld) and are granted entry to the Inworld. Our hero Tristan is on the verge of becoming San Francisco’s Fuse champion and spends the first part of the novel myopically dedicated to entering the Inworld. But, unbeknownst to him, forces are conspiring to keep Tristan from his goal. Like with 1984, The Hunger Games and countless others, social commentary and plot are intrinsically woven together in Otto’s tale. Through shifting points-of-view, the author uses his characters to provide a firsthand account of the disparity between the Inworld and Outworld. With his dreams of Inworld life crumbling, the harsh reality of Outworld life drives Tristan to an epiphany and he joins his friend Luisa as part of a tiny group of rebel Outworlders. Together, they search for a way to rouse the rest of their people from their complacent rut. Meanwhile, Tristan’s Fuse archrival Sonny is slowly becoming a megalomaniacal Caretaker. From here, the book becomes a propulsive procedural, running headfirst into scenes of tension-building action, driving the two worlds toward their inevitable climactic conflict. Unfortunately Otto’s focus on plot suffocates his characters, confining them to a one-dimensional limbo where they exist as vessels for plot development, interacting only for the purpose of strategizing their rebellion against the Inworld and to reinforce the book’s underlying social commentary.

A well-paced, deftly plotted science fiction tale that suffers from its undernourished characters.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4575-0791-5

Page Count: 245

Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 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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