A charmingly perceptive follow-up that should appeal to both teenagers and adults.

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Bewilderment of Boys

This sequel to Luddy’s debut novel (Spelldown, 2008) continues the story of a young woman dealing with family, first love and the urge to escape her small South Carolina hometown in the early 1970s.

Seventeen-year-old Karlene Bridges can’t wait to get out of Red Clover. Her high school career is almost over, and she has a good shot at scholarships at several colleges, including Smith, the alma mater of her mentor and confidante, Mrs. Harrison. Unfortunately, Mrs. Harrison and her family are about to leave town. She’s not the only one leaving: Karlene’s love interest, Billy Ray Jenkins, is off serving in the Navy, and her other male friend, Spencer Randall, who she notices is looking mighty handsome lately, was just drafted. In fact, all the other boys in Red Clover are about to go off to Vietnam or have already died there. Karlene’s only respite from her loneliness lies in the idea of getting out of Red Clover. As a girl bordering on adulthood, she explores the ideas of sex and sexuality while following a deeply feminist philosophy. She’s happy that her older sister is experiencing her first pregnancy, but privately she thinks, “[y]ou’d think Gloria Jean was incubating the New Messiah, the way she and Mama go on about it.” And although her friends, such as Spencer’s sister, Lucinda, eagerly delve into romantic encounters, Karlene realizes the importance of protecting herself from an early or unplanned pregnancy; she takes to heart Mrs. Harrison’s admonition that “making love is dangerous for a woman, more so than for a man.” References to popular music, films and events of the time help illustrate the story’s themes, although younger readers may not immediately recognize them all. Luddy’s quick-witted, perceptive dialogue (“Sometimes lyrics brood in my heart. Sometimes they pop into my brain, but this one started in my epidermis”) breathes life into Karlene’s precocious personality. Anyone who’s experienced the restlessness of young adulthood will identify with Karlene’s yearning to leave her small town behind. However, Red Clover also seems to be the kind of place to which Karlene will happily return someday. Fans of Luddy’s first novel will be glad to have that opportunity here.

A charmingly perceptive follow-up that should appeal to both teenagers and adults.

Pub Date: April 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-0991551804

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Backbone Books

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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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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