While it needs streamlining, this moving tribute remains heartfelt and personal.

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GINO'S MOM

A writer blends fiction and autobiography to tell the story of his wife’s perseverance. 

By the time debut author Markman had met Macy, she had already lived an extraordinary life. After a devastating miscarriage, she stayed with her first husband, Wayne, and eventually gave birth to their son, Gino. With Wayne more preoccupied by his band than his young family, Macy was left to care for the struggling infant. By the time the doctors realized Gino’s constant crying and feeding were abnormal, it was too late. The baby had already suffered a major stroke and an immense spike in his blood sugar, leaving him insulin-dependent and wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. “But while the doctors kept using the word limitations, Macy heard the word challenges,” the author writes. And she did indeed experience many more challenges. Wayne would grow from negligent to outright abusive as Macy struggled to ensure Gino’s proper feeding and maintain her job in education. Eventually, with the support of her best friend, Jenny, Macy left Wayne and signed up for an online dating website, which allowed Markman to come into her story and begin narrating in the first person her ascent through the politics of the local school district as a principal, reading director, and Ph.D. candidate. The two slowly built a life together revolving around caring for Gino and the author’s own troubled son, Tommy. Markman’s admiration for Macy brightly shines through in every tale he re-creates—from the work’s opening, when she handles the news of 9/11 with utter professionalism and grace, to the moment she learns that she will become a principal 15 minutes before her first day starts. The author crafts a loving, humorous, and relatable character. But the switch from third to first person is somewhat jarring, changing the book from a novel to a memoir a third of the way through. Sticking to one point of view might have helped Markman to edit down the volume’s considerable length (over 450 pages) and focus on its essential theme: Macy’s inspiring tenacity.

While it needs streamlining, this moving tribute remains heartfelt and personal. 

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-977203-46-5

Page Count: 482

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 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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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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