McLaughlin delivers stirring imagery, a deeply moving look at American poverty and, most impressively of all, a realistic,...

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RUN IN THE FAM’LY

In Oakland, a young man struggles to rise out of poverty and take care of his girlfriend and infant son, but his past seems to prevent him from moving forward.

Split into a prologue and three distinct parts, this book belongs to Jake Robertson; his voice is strong as he tells his story, although the language of the book—full of creative compound phrases, striking imagery and lyrical passages—can be confusing or repetitive, especially during action scenes. The prologue introduces Jake as a child, traveling from Chicago to Oakland with his family. Here readers meet his dad and witness firsthand the troubled relationship that is at the heart of the story. Part One jumps into the current day, where Jake struggles to provide for his girlfriend, Noel, and their potentially asthmatic son, William, despite trouble Jake is having with his caseworker and the man who runs the labor hall on which he relies for work. While this section feels a little drawn out, the book hits its stride in Part Two, which provides insight into the events in Jake’s life that defined him and brought him to where he is now. Jake comes to life as a character here—a flawed, troubled man with good intentions. McLaughlin deftly builds his tale so that, once Part Three begins, readers have a deep understanding of Jake, as well as the central conflict of the tale. Jake’s father has been released from prison and is looking for his son so that he can include Jake in a scheme that would solve all his problems. However, Jake’s involvement in this plan will force him into a confrontation with his father and bring to light secrets that have been buried for a long time—secrets that have shaped Jake’s identity. The strength of Jake’s character, and the skill with which McLaughlin creates him, makes this a compulsively readable book. By the time Jake is forced to make a decision that will change his life, readers know enough about him and about his past to know what is at stake—and the resolution doesn’t disappoint.

McLaughlin delivers stirring imagery, a deeply moving look at American poverty and, most impressively of all, a realistic, relatable character in Jake Robertson.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2007

ISBN: 978-1572336452

Page Count: 292

Publisher: University of Tennessee

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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