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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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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