GIDEON'S CHILDREN

An idealistic young public defender and his colleagues decide to stop plea-bargaining in Franklin’s (An Irish Experience, 2008, etc.) historical novel.
The year 1968 was a tumultuous time in America. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, Vietnam War protestors filled the streets, and violence broke out during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. That chaotic year is the setting for this legal thriller, which tries to recapture some of that era’s idealistic spirit. Matt Harris joins the public defender’s office in Solina, California, where the court system is filled with bullying and prejudicial judges and where poor African-Americans, Hispanics and others at the bottom of society’s ladder receive no justice. Sparked by the feelings of rage in the air, Harris and other public defenders decide that they are going to stop advising their clients to take plea bargains because they usually result in innocent people receiving unjust punishment; instead, they resolve to start trying every single case. This plays havoc with the system and makes enemies of the judges. Meanwhile, Harris deals with the fact that his girlfriend, Stella, is battling cancer. In this novel, Franklin attempts to recapture a unique time in American history: The judges represent the law-and-order element that wanted to keep a lid on change, and the public defenders are, in effect, the liberals who aimed to tear down the establishment. The book exclusively tells its story from Harris’ point of view, which doesn’t allow readers to see how the other public defenders are faring in court, beyond the occasional casual reference. Franklin does successfully use many 1968 touchstones, particularly song titles (such as Dion DiMucci’s rendition of “Abraham, Martin and John”), to set his scenes. Sometimes he tries too hard, however, particularly with his characters’ clichéd and constant use of the term “pigs” to describe those representing the established system. Harris’ love affair with Stella is reminiscent of Love Story, and she, like other characters here, often seems like a cardboard construct who doesn’t exist except when she’s with him.
A thriller with a unique story idea and a well-captured historical mood but hampered by one-dimensional characters.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9908398-0-4

Page Count: 565

Publisher: Chamberlain Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2014

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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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