A story of grit and perseverance that will appeal to readers interested in the history of women in journalism.

THE GIRL PUZZLE

A historical novel about the 10 days that famed newspaper journalist Nellie Bly posed as a patient in a mental hospital.

The story opens in 1919 as narrator Beatrice Alexander performs menial tasks as Bly’s assistant at the McAlpin Hotel in Manhattan. Now in her 50s, Bly maintains a makeshift office in a suite at the hotel, where she writes articles and arranges adoptions. She gives Beatrice some handwritten notes to type—pages that recount Bly’s undercover stint in a mental institution decades before. As Beatrice works through these notes, third-person narration takes readers 30 years into the past. Desperate for her first break as a journalist, young Bly found work at a newspaper by agreeing to do an exposé on a women’s asylum. After convincing medical professionals that she was mentally unstable, she was taken to Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women, in the East River, where she was instantly subjected to miserable treatment. The conditions at Blackwell’s Island couldn’t have been worse, with its rancid food, “filthy bathwater,” and abusive medical staff. Bly found only one genuinely altruistic doctor there, and his efforts had minimal impact on patient conditions. As Bly waited for her publisher to rescue her from the asylum, she worried that her suffering might cause her to lose her grip on reality. Novelist Braithwaite (The Road to Newgate, 2018, etc.) delivers a well-researched and engrossing tale that focuses on female empowerment. It’s full of intriguing historical details about past medical practices and the abuses that wards of the state endured; it also features many real-life characters, including patients and doctors that Bly met in the asylum. Indeed, the scenes in the so-called “madhouse” are significantly more compelling than those set years later, but the latter-day happenings do serve to show how successful Bly became after her first assignment. Although readers know from the start that Bly escaped Blackwell’s Island, the descriptions of her harrowing experiences remain captivating.

A story of grit and perseverance that will appeal to readers interested in the history of women in journalism.

Pub Date: March 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79893-638-2

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Crooked Cat Books

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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