An uneven but emotional and thoughtful look at a girl facing big questions.

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BEBETTE

A seriously ill girl gets philosophical guidance from an imaginary friend in this novel.

Lily Fiore, 12, has been very sick with a blood cancer for three years. Her parents moved the family from a place called Reverie to Salvation, New York, a town built up around a famous children’s hospital; there, Lily receives grueling transfusions and other treatments. As if serious illness wasn’t bad enough, Lily is isolated to avoid contact with people and their germs. Her worried parents try to stay positive and look for signs that prove that their daughter will recover. Throughout the novel, Lily—a thoughtful girl—considers big questions, such as whether life is random, the nature of eternity, and the lessons of her beloved, late grandfather Tony Agnello, who taught her to pray when she was 6: “Always start and end the day being grateful, thanking God, the Universe, the Great Spirit or whatever you want to believe is the ultimate truth.” Lily’s imaginary friend, the kindhearted Bebette, began appearing to Lily in her dreams and waking thoughts after she became ill. They play together and chat, often in “Hide-Land,” a magical kingdom where Lily could fly—until about a year ago, after the family moved. In a long conversation, Bebette explains Hide-Land, what it means to be a “Seeker,” the importance of dreams, and the advisability of having a philosophy of life. As new developments loom—a medication, a friend—Lily goes on a dream journey that helps prepare her for what’s next. Barone (The Clown Don, 2017, etc.) treads on dangerous ground by using the heart-wrenching image of a very sick young girl to win readers’ support. The opening pages do play on their sympathies, as when Lily dreams of children playing ring-around-the-rosie who then turn into horrifying skeletons and ashes. But to Barone’s credit, he doesn’t melodramatically dwell on Lily’s pain, fear, or potential death; instead, he usually addresses such concerns more subtly, as with images of flight. Lily’s father, for example, becomes obsessed with building her a helicopter (or buying a $100,000 do-it-yourself kit) so that she may fly in reality, if not in her dreams. For Lily’s mother, safety is the chief concern, and it’s shown how unfair it is for Lily’s father to make her a villain: “Why do you always make impossible suggestions that I am forced to reject?” she says. Lily, who overhears their argument, is shown to have the insight that what needs fixing is her broken imagination: “She didn’t need a helicopter. She needed to fly without one.” Similarly, Barone shows Lily’s fiercely spirited defense of Bebette and Hide-Land against her mother’s disapproval: “What else do I HAVE right now?” she screams. The book’s proper audience is hard to figure out, though; it’s written from a 12-year-old’s perspective, but Lily is wise beyond her years, and not many tweens will be intrigued by the book’s lengthier, more abstract philosophical discussions.

An uneven but emotional and thoughtful look at a girl facing big questions.

Pub Date: May 18, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 144

Publisher: All Small Tales

Review Posted Online: Aug. 9, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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