A haunting novel that’s both tough and delicate and fulfills the promise of the author’s first.

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Skeletal

In Hayton’s (Found, Near Water, 2014, etc.) latest novel, a 14-year-old New Zealand girl, dead for 10 years, tells the story of how her body came to lie beneath a half-finished house.

Three years after a 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, rebuilding is still ongoing. Workers lift a home off its foundation to repair the cracked earth beneath, and Daina Harrow describes workers exposing her skeletal remains: “Broken along a prior instability. That’s where I am,” she says. In explaining what led up to her death, Daina tells what initially seems like a familiar story: a neglectful, single alcoholic mother; poverty; bullying students; clueless adults. Readers may think it easy to guess at how she winds up where she’s found—but author Hayton, as she did in her excellent first novel, complicates her story well beyond the predictable. (Christine Emmett, the main character of Found, Near Water, even makes a tangential appearance here.) Daina undergoes physical mistreatment, but she also begins having hallucinations: the colors of her face run, and she can taste sounds. Are her friends poisoning her? Is she going crazy? What really happened when she was 5 years old? And can she trust the Grey Man, who assigns her daunting tasks? With courage, intelligence, and resourcefulness, Daina tries to do what’s right. Her story fully comes together only on the final page, and Hayton does a masterful job of keeping the pieces in play before then. In some superficial respects, the novel resembles Alice Sebold’s 2002 bestseller, The Lovely Bones, which is also narrated by a dead 14-year-old girl, but Hayton’s sensibility is tougher-minded, more honest, and stranger. Daina’s bitterness, her longing to be seen and known, and her helplessness are strikingly, utterly real; in some ways, she’s already a ghost before she’s dead. As in her earlier novel, the author makes fruitful use of the Christchurch earthquake as a metaphor: disruption is violent but revealing. Her characterization is quick and effective but also thoughtful, avoiding stereotype; the school admissions secretary, for example, who at first seems a spiteful martinet, turns out to have surprising heart and grit.

A haunting novel that’s both tough and delicate and fulfills the promise of the author’s first.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0473309268

Page Count: 266

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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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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