THE BEST OF FAMILIES

A poignant coming-of-age story about the bonds of friendship, the heartache of first love and navigating the turbulent waters of marriage and family.

Francis “Fran” Hopkins Draper Jr. grew up in the affluent suburb of Chestnut Hill, Pa., with his older sister Heather, his French, socially conscious mother and kowtowing father. He’s quick to point out that his relatives are “Long Island-lock-jawed, garden variety WASPs, a family whose members were born on third base but thought they’d hit a triple.” Fran and his peers are products of private-school education and his parents view themselves as part of the “impoverished aristocracy.” Groome frames his novel as Fran’s midlife memoir—which Heather cajoles her barely 30-year-old sibling into writing—based on his remarkable life that includes dropping out of Dartmouth, two marriages, a decorated tour in the military, a failed baseball career, a successful business career and an ongoing estrangement from his parents. In particular, Fran recounts his experiences in the summer of 1955. Having just graduated from high school, he and his best friend Potter work a summer job in Quebec. Introduced to a beautiful young woman named Lisette, Fran is immediately smitten by this girl who’s nothing like the shallow debutantes back home. Unfortunately, the love affair is short-lived, as the boys soon return home—where Potter must deal with his girlfriend’s potential pregnancy. Although Potter dodges that bullet, Fran and Lisette aren’t so lucky. Despite their upbringing, Fran and Heather are open-minded and focus on an individual’s character rather than on which side of the tracks they were raised. Their mother finds social standing, breeding and appearances to be of the utmost importance, yet compared to their compatriots, the Drapers are struggling financially—and the hypocrisy isn’t lost on her children. The harder she tries to turn the charade into reality by forcing her children into upper-class roles, the more she alienates them. The author deftly renders a sad portrait of a family being pulled apart by an alcoholic mother in denial. Though the narrative’s beginning is a bit bumpy, Groome quickly finds his stride. Writing in accessible, straight-forward prose, Groome creates a touching fictional memoir to cleverly illustrate a life lesson—without endings, there would be no beginnings.  A heartfelt, captivating read, packed with familial politics and strife.

 

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 217

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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