A well-told comic tale with a feminist theme.

MIA MARCOTTE AND THE ROBOT

In this debut children’s chapter book, a girl who dreams of being the first astronaut on Mars gets help for her science fair project from a robot.

Although young Mia Marcotte loves to imagine exploring space, she doesn’t enjoy her science class, where her experiments often go wrong. She doesn’t feel inspired by the third grade science fair until she learns that the best projects “will go on a special field trip…to the space center!” It’s a field trip that the would-be astronaut doesn’t want to miss, so she tries to think of a good project in the three days she has left. Her first attempt doesn’t go well, and Mia’s “architect dad and accountant mom” may not be much help. But maybe her Aunt Serena will; she’s coming for a visit, and she’s an engineer. Serena’s boxes arrive first—and from one of them, a boy-sized intelligent robot emerges, calling himself Aizek. With his help, Mia builds a telescope modeled on Galileo’s. At the science fair, the project has some hitches, but Mia’s inspired by a teenage girl who’s a trainee astronaut. Wondering how such a young girl succeeded, Mia realizes “the simple answer. That girl persisted!” Mia, too, persists, fixing her telescope and achieving her goal. In her debut, Wald tells an amusing story with a series of comic predicaments and a wry narrative voice, as when Mia’s “forehead wrinkled as she tried to find a solution. But the more she tried, the messier her head became.” Aizek’s name appears to be a joking reference to author Isaac Asimov and his famous Three Laws of Robotics. But the story also offers serious messages about not giving up and the collective nature of success; Mia’s parrot and next-door neighbor contribute to her project, for example, and Mia helps Aizek develop imagination. Debut illustrator Caliskan’s black-and-white images are simple but varied and expressive, and depict diverse characters.

A well-told comic tale with a feminist theme.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-2-9568573-1-0

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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