A love story too innocently conceived to titillate adults and too mature to appeal to younger readers.



Raised in a loveless household, a young girl strikes out on her own to find affection and happiness. 

Charlise Charmaine Vickery, nicknamed Cha Cha, grows up starved for familial warmth. Her mother, Jolean, is icily distant and perpetually disapproving, and her father, Mr. Vickery, is sweet but numbed by the sadness of his own parents’ premature deaths. After a “joyless wedding,” Jolean inadvertently became pregnant with Cha Cha, and her enthusiasm for motherhood is no greater than for marriage. Cha Cha is stung by her parents’ aloofness, which she can’t help but experience as a wounding rebuke, a sadness poignantly captured by Brown Schwartz (Charlie Purple Turnipseed and the Dixie Brood, 2013, etc.): “Why don’t my parents hug or kiss me? Aren’t children supposed to know how to love?” Her father dies suddenly, and although she’s only a teenager, she’s left to take care of his tree farm and nurse an ailing Jolean. But once her mother passes away as well, Cha Cha, now in her early 30s, is finally free of dreary obligation. She sells the farm and takes off for Divine, Georgia, a location randomly chosen. There, she decides to open a muffin shop and settle down with Ariabella, a donkey she befriends and adopts on the way. And she’s given an opportunity to craft the kind of loving life she was always denied. She meets Rob Brodie, a man whose figure “exuded masculinity.” The two are immediately taken with each other and quickly become close. Also, she makes the acquaintance of a little boy, Sage, whose life has also been troubled and who longs for a welcoming home.  Brown Schwartz writes in a dreamy, childlike style evocative of a fairy tale. One can’t help but expect the story to take a supernatural turn. She expressively portrays Cha Cha’s emotional deprivation, the forlorn consequence of her parents’ collective disappointment with life rather than a dark meanness. Both Cha Cha’s parents are intelligently depicted as complexly contoured: Mr. Vickery’s good nature struggles to shine through his despair, and Jolean keeps the causes of her angst a closely guarded secret. Also, the story is a sweetly inspirational one that cheerfully yanks relentless optimism out of long-standing despair. However, it’s never clear for whom this story is intended. The writing seems created for children, especially given the simple, tenderly earnest prose and dialogue. Even as a woman in her 30s, Cha Cha speaks like a child—consider this characteristic line, addressed to a donkey. “Ariabella, do you want to go with me? I am on a journey and it’s possible we will be a great comfort to each other.” Further suggesting the book is designed for children, it’s festooned with cute illustrative drawings. But incongruently, some themes seem ill-suited to a younger audience, like a scene depicting Cha Cha losing her virginity to Rob in which she sheds tears until Rob promises her first experience won’t be painful. For whomever the story is composed, the plot moves slowly and without much excitement—the author introduces minor dramas so cautiously she seems afraid to startle her readers. 

A love story too innocently conceived to titillate adults and too mature to appeal to younger readers.  

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-947309-35-7

Page Count: 167

Publisher: Deeds Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 14, 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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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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