A marvelously researched historical novel about Union soldiers and sympathizers, both moving and educational.

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Friends of the Wigwam

A CIVIL WAR STORY

A Civil War tale tracks the braided lives of six friends whose lives are upturned by national tumult.

In this debut novel, best friends Will and Aaron, 16 and 13 years old, stumble upon a wigwam in 1857 in the Illinois woods, a makeshift Native American hut concealed on the river bank. In the wigwam, they find a tomahawk and a medicine bag filled with colored beads. Over time, the structure becomes the official meeting spot for their extended group of youthful fellow travelers, and the physical symbol of their unbreakable bonds. Within the group, romance blossoms between Will and Allie, a self-assured tomboy who eventually disguises her gender to fight in the war, and between Aaron and Jenny Putnam, the daughter of a fire marshal. Another friend, Elmer Ellsworth, particularly close to Allie, becomes a colonel in the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, and dies taking down a Rebel flag, a harsh reminder of the war brewing in the background. Huelskamp has crafted a scrupulously researched historical novel, culled from the exhaustive study of previously unpublished letters and diaries. Both characters and events are factual, embellished only when the demands of dramatization—largely the concoction of dialogue—must be met. Unfortunately, the dialogue is the volume’s weakest component, often so sentimental and emotionally overwrought it borders on the outright cloying. At one point, Allie learns that Elmer commands a regiment of his own: “ ‘I don’t want Elmer killed!’ Allie stated. Her voice began to crack a little. ‘He’s my friend and brother. He taught me how to fish and trap muskrats. He should be comin’ back home. I don’t want him to be hurt!’ ” The book as a whole, though, is a scholarly triumph, deftly bringing alive the volatile atmosphere of a nation in peril. Major historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Congressman Elihu Washburne appear prominently, humanizing a conflict too often interpreted as a contest of impersonal factions. But the story’s real driving force is the stark juxtaposition of youthful innocence—radiated by the self-professed “friends of the wigwam”—and the savagery of war. Huelskamp’s investigatory rigor is the principal virtue of the novel, but it also manages to be an entertaining, and tender, tale of the relentlessness of love against daunting odds.

A marvelously researched historical novel about Union soldiers and sympathizers, both moving and educational.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-34882-6

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Barrington Group Publications

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2017

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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