No Catcher in the Rye angst here. Instead you'll find a welcome dose of nostalgic realism laced with hard-edged wisdom.

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GOD'S KINGDOM

Mosher (The Great Northern Express, 2012, etc.) finds a coming-of-age story in God’s Kingdom, "up in the little known mountains of northern Vermont hard by the Canadian border."

The tale follows Kinneson fathers and sons across the centuries, as revealed by the curiosity of high schooler and budding writer Jim Kinneson during the early 1950s. Described in Prairie Home Companion–like storytelling chapters, the Kingdom Kinnesons originate with Charles, who trekked into "Territory but Little Known" in 1759 and led a massacre of Abenaki Indians, only to return later and marry Molly Molasses, an Abenaki. In the early 19th century, "Abolition Jim" Kinneson was killed by federal troops because he led God's Kingdom to secede from the United States over the issue of slavery. In blackly comic stories, often melancholy or ripe with realism, characters are shaped by a land of isolated beauty, where winter weather can linger far below zero. Teetotaling Kinnesons once operated the Water of Life whiskey distillery, and they live on the "farm that wasn’t," which only begins to flourish in Jim's time under the stewardship of the itinerant Black Canadian Dubois family. Sadly, it’s young Gaëtan Dubois, math genius and hockey demon, who learns "the great dangers of this place they called God’s Kingdom lay closer to home." Amid hunting and fishing, baseball and school, Jim falls in love with a beautiful girl from the Île d’Illusion, worships his grandfather, and uncovers the ugly truth about "the trouble in the family" between great-grandfather "Mad Charlie" and his best friend, the Rev. Doctor Pliny Templeton, an escaped slave, Princeton seminary graduate, war hero, and founder of Kingdom Common Academy.

No Catcher in the Rye angst here. Instead you'll find a welcome dose of nostalgic realism laced with hard-edged wisdom.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-069481

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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