Quirky and beguiling, this witty quest for the truth will delight anyone mending their own broken life.

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GRAVITY IS THE THING

At 15, Abigail Sorensen lost her brother, Robert, and someone started mailing her chapters of a curious book called The Guidebook. But what is it guiding her toward?

Twenty years later, now a single mother in Sydney, she is about to find out. Abigail, along with 25 other recipients of The Guidebook, has been invited on an all-expenses-paid vacation to Taylor Island, off the southeast coast of Australia. Their host, Wilbur, son of The Guidebook’s authors, promises to tell them (well, most of them) the truth. But the truth behind The Guidebook is more complex than any of them expected, and although Abigail leaves the resort disappointed, she soon finds that the path has only just begun. At times, Moriarty (The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars, 2018, etc.) tells Abigail’s story through short, impressionistic snippets, entwining first- and second-person perspectives that pull the reader into her life, as if we, too, were reading a new version of The Guidebook. Abigail’s view of the world is filtered through her wry sense of humor, giving Moriarty’s prose (well-honed through years as an award-winning YA writer) a style reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film, so even the most tragic events still carry a tinge of the absurd. Indeed, in Moriarty’s hands, the self-help genre gets a few jabs—when Abigail reads The Celestine Prophesy, for example, she looks for messages the next day only to have her 4-year-old son bring her lots of Cheerios and a co-worker remark that her dress doesn’t complement her skin tone. And The Guidebook itself is riddled with ridiculous observations and calls for silly experiments. Yet Abigail does receive messages, or at least experiences many more serendipitous events than your average person. But will the planets align to bring her love or danger? And how might The Guidebook help her solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance?

Quirky and beguiling, this witty quest for the truth will delight anyone mending their own broken life.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-288373-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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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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