An often emotionally insightful portrait of family life.

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GUARDIANS' BETRAYAL

WHAT HAPPENS SEVEN YEARS AFTER ADOPTION

In Van Zanten’s (On Thin Ice, 2012) novel, a family with adopted children faces issues that threaten to tear them apart.

Sisters Shayla, 10, and Abby, 6, are too young to remember why they were taken away from their mother, Nora. All they know is that, one day, their social worker, Bernice Harrison, chaperones them to Nora’s funeral and then adopts them. Years later, three members of the Harrison family grapple quietly with their problems: Shayla, now 17, develops a shoplifting habit, worries that her two best friends like each other more than they like her, and wonders if her crush, Eric, reciprocates her feelings. Then Shayla’s half sister, Anna Michaud, contacts her, offering to introduce her to her birth father, Gabriel, and Shayla is thrilled at the prospect. Meanwhile, Bernice’s husband, Tom, grows increasingly attracted to his 25-year-old receptionist, Marla, and begins an affair with her. Bernice, for her part, feels besieged on all fronts. She worries that Shayla’s biological father, a shiftless addict the last time she saw him, won’t be a good influence on the young woman. (She and Shayla have dramatic, dayslong fights on the matter.) She also feels increasingly distraught about her marriage, as Tom keeps “working late” and declines to have sex with her. As Bernice’s, Tom’s, and Shayla’s troubles deepen and harsh truths come to light, the family’s bonds are tested. Despite Bernice’s unique position as Shayla’s former social worker, the story’s central problems—teen angst, infidelity—are fairly quotidian. But that very normalcy makes Van Zanten’s story all the more engrossing, as the characters work through their turbulent feelings and find solutions through mature discussion. Along the way, the author sensitively renders their emotions: “she pushed away thoughts about those confusing times of long ago; a pervasive sense of weariness always surfaced.” However, the reasons why Marla is attracted to her middle-aged boss are never explained, and the way that Shayla talks can be distracting: “Omigod, this is so excellent; like, I will have my dad back!”

An often emotionally insightful portrait of family life.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 213

Publisher: Book Baby

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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