A triumphant tale of surviving abuse, embracing hockey, and finding love.

Becoming Phoebe

A teenage athlete strives to overcome a traumatic past in this debut novel. 

Phoebe Rose confronts adolescence having no idea who she is. Found at age 4 wandering around her Ohio neighborhood, she’s been raised in a series of foster homes. Maintaining a sense of normalcy in the wake of such upheaval remains difficult, so Phoebe dedicates herself to hockey from a young age. The game has been there when so many of the adults in her life have failed her. A few of her foster parents have been kind (especially the Wilsons, who she hoped could adopt her but were denied permission because they were black and she was white), but mostly, Phoebe has suffered throughout her childhood. Her last foster father, Mr. Jenkins, an evangelical with a mean streak, beat her repeatedly and raped her. When Phoebe sets off for a Minnesota college with a dream to play on its women’s hockey team, she vows to keep her physical and emotional scars to herself. After Phoebe makes the team, she quickly learns that she no longer needs to “keep surviving”—she can be a whole person again. Slowly opening up to her fellow players, Phoebe not only confesses the ordeals of her past life, but also discovers a safe space within the confines of the team. As time passes, Phoebe’s teammates help her to find both love and peace within herself. Neal’s decision to explore Phoebe’s life in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards is jarring at first—it takes the reader a while to figure out the timeline. But this strategy turns out to be a brilliant stroke of storytelling—it makes the reader feel as disjointed and uncomfortable as Phoebe does. Neal’s plot covers a lot of ground—Phoebe has been abandoned and mistreated while dealing with a chromosomal disorder and questioning her sexuality. Although this could, quite frankly, feel a bit depressing, Neal’s emotionally gripping narrative anchors Phoebe’s problems and prevents them from drifting too far into weepiness. Though most readers have not shared Phoebe’s trials, all should relate to her struggles—they would do well to absorb her story slowly, savoring both her pain and exultant promise.

A triumphant tale of surviving abuse, embracing hockey, and finding love.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Melancholy Donkey Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A clever, romantic, sexy love story.

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RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE

The much-loved royal romance genre gets a fun and refreshing update in McQuiston’s debut.

Alex Claremont-Diaz, son of the American President Ellen Claremont, knows one thing for sure: He hates Henry, the British prince to whom he is always compared. He lives for their verbal sparring matches, but when one of their fights at a royal wedding goes a bit too far, they end up falling into a wedding cake and making tabloid headlines. An international scandal could ruin Alex’s mother’s chances for re-election, so it’s time for damage control. The plan? Alex and Henry must pretend to be best friends, giving the tabloids pictures of their bromance and neutralizing the threat to Ellen's presidency. But after a few photo ops with Henry, Alex starts to realize that the passionate anger he feels toward him might be a cover for regular old passion. There are, naturally, a million roadblocks between their first kiss and their happily-ever-after—how can American political royalty and actual British royalty ever be together? How can they navigate being open about their sexualities (Alex is bisexual; Henry is gay) in their very public and very scrutinized roles? Alex and Henry must decide if they’ll risk their futures, their families, and their careers to take a chance on happiness. Although the story’s premise might be a fantasy—it takes place in a world in which a divorced-mom Texan Democrat won the 2016 election—the emotions are all real. The love affair between Alex and Henry is intense and romantic, made all the more so by the inclusion of their poetic emails that manage to be both funny and steamy. McQuiston’s strength is in dialogue; her characters speak in hilarious rapid-fire bursts with plenty of “likes,” “ums,” creative punctuation, and pop-culture references, sounding like smarter, funnier versions of real people. Although Alex and Henry’s relationship is the heart of the story, their friends and family members are all rich, well-drawn characters, and their respective worlds feel both realistic and larger-than-life.

A clever, romantic, sexy love story.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31677-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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