Thoughtful and perceptive, with offbeat humor, twisty puzzles, and exciting action.

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THE MEMORY TRAP

Asked to investigate the pranks he’s suspected of executing, a boy uncovers something much more dangerous in this middle-grade novel.

Henry Dunne, 12, is new to Fountain Green Middle School in Maryland after his family moved. His parents’ Italian restaurant is no longer nearby, so instead of going there after school and enjoying the kitchen’s friendly camaraderie, the seventh-grader spends many hours alone at home. To cope, he practices his card tricks and a technique called the Memory Palace that, in Henry’s case, links each card in a deck to certain well-known locations from his beloved old house. The practice calms him, which he needs even more now that he is suspected as the prankster who’s been plaguing the school—and leaving behind, as a calling card, the joker from a blue-backed Bicycle deck (Henry’s favorite), along with other evidence meant to frame the boy. When Principal George Pal’s car disappears from inside its locked garage, he proposes a deal to Henry: “You help me figure out what happened to my car, and I’ll help you figure out who’s causing all the trouble.” Henry is challenged to leave behind the cool, calm reason of his Memory Palace to confront the problem, work with friends and allies, deal with shaken trust, and discover the sinister motives behind the pranks—leading to a perilous, dramatic, and thrilling showdown. Pranks are a not-infrequent topic for middle-grade novels, but Koren (Do Over, 2016) makes something more complicated and poignant from the theme than adolescent high jinks. Characters have rich backstories; Pal, for example, can’t get over a failed relationship, insisting on “closure.” Henry’s friend Lamont loves parkour—but is there another explanation for why he’s always covered in bruises? Brook Leahy, who’s interested in Henry, is a talented artist, not just a pretty girl. And Henry’s loneliness, homesickness, and need for human connection are movingly explored, leading to the tale’s central insight: “Maybe home wasn’t a place, he thought….Maybe home was people.”

Thoughtful and perceptive, with offbeat humor, twisty puzzles, and exciting action.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 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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