Cross has made a solid start for continued exploration of this strange yet for many readers familiar world, one that might...

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WILBERFORCE

This debut moves from the misadventures of several boys at a British public school in 1926 to a study of a particularly hapless young man and his possible redemption.

St. Stephen’s Academy, a so-so non-Eton, is muddling along when one malevolent lad arranges a subversive prank that sparks a disciplinary backlash. Within the communal crime and punishment, Cross zooms in on the trials of Morgan Wilberforce, a 17-year-old dealing with hormones, underage females, abusive seniors, constant caning, and a few well-meaning teachers. One of the latter is John Grieves, on whom Cross expends a good deal of ink only to fade him out in the book’s second half. Morgan gets tangled in an all-boy triangle that ends tragically (though not before Cross oozes a good deal of purple prose), yet he bounces back in the annual cricket match between students and Old Boys. Finally, one offense too many gets him exiled to the home of an intriguing bishop who combines prayer, poetry, and talking cure in ministrations with an unclear outcome thanks to the novel’s slyly ambiguous ending. The cleric is the father of the academy’s new headmaster and tied to a painful time in Grieves’ youth, but these connections aren’t developed. Indeed, the book has several significant and promising loose ends that support the publisher’s bruiting about of Cross’ Rowling-esque ambitions for more volumes on St. Stephen’s & Co., perhaps achieving “the Hogwarts of adult literary fiction.” Maybe: certainly the dollops of frank sexual action will keep this installment off the teen shelves, and the absence of a single substantial female character might have more than halved the younger audience anyway.

Cross has made a solid start for continued exploration of this strange yet for many readers familiar world, one that might well capture a libidinous P.G. Wodehouse crowd, if she can render her quirky setting, cast, and concerns less earnest and more amusing.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-29010-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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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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