An intriguing tale about how people can affect one another long after they part ways.

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TO TUSCANY WITH LOVE

A fun, poignant story about eight college students’ shared experience in Italy and how their youthful idealism and indiscretions affect their adulthoods.

Mencini’s debut novel starts in the present day with the middle-aged Bella Rossini receiving an invitation to reunite with people from her past—including a man who broke her heart. As a result, she’s forced to confront the choices she made after their relationship failed. The story then rewinds 30 years to a night that a rebellious Bella spends in jail. Her mother, concerned that Bella is mixing with the wrong crowd, enrolls her in a summer class in Italy. There she meets a cast of characters who leave an indelible mark on her life, including beautiful twins Karen and Meghan; smooth-talking Rune; bookworm Lee; sweet but insecure Hope; attractive athlete Philip; and Stillman, an outgoing Southerner with a haunted past. A classic summer-abroad tale of lust, love and adventure unfolds, but Mencini manages to steer clear of clichés. She tells the story primarily from Bella’s perspective, with other characters occasionally taking the helm to offer tidbits about their own pasts. Eventually, the summer comes to an end and the students go off to live their lives—realities filled with moments of excitement, disappointment and loss. Three decades later, they reunite in Italy to reacquaint themselves with each other and face some ugly truths. Overall, the story is often engaging, if sometimes a little unrealistic. The novel can, at times, provide too much detail in its descriptions, as when an adult Lee finishes a meal: “After enjoying his pasta dinner and responsibly drinking only one glass of wine, he drove home to finish the bottle there.” However, Mencini also provides beautiful prose that brings settings to life: “[T]he morning sun yielded to a landscape vista dotted with hilltop villas, vineyards, and olive groves. Gold, orange, pink, and dusty greens unfolded in a rolling patchwork.”

An intriguing tale about how people can affect one another long after they part ways.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-938592003

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Capriole Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 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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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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