Powerful, historically based novel of survival, beliefs, adaptation and resistance.

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The Wives of Billie's Mountain

An elderly woman reflects on her early years living as a Mormon on the run in author Simmons’ absorbing debut novel, based on a true story.

In 1898 Utah, 10-year-old Mary Higginsen, her nearly blind mother, and her brothers and sisters are taken by their father to Billie’s Mountain to live in a cave to avoid his arrest for polygamy. Mary and her relatives are a second family; Father has another wife to whom he is legally wed. After helping them to settle in, Father returns to town to his first family, leaving elder son Zebedee in charge. Believing the separation from Father to be temporary, the children work nearly constantly, cooking, washing and planting, although their efforts are sometimes for naught. Earnest Zebedee remains thankful for small mercies, but recalcitrant Mary has doubts: “If this was God’s idea of a blessing, it certainly was a sorry one.” In winter, supplies run dangerously low. As weeks pass without Father, Mary is increasingly angered by her family’s blind trust and their predisposition to suffer while Father’s other family presumably lives in comfort. Facing frostbite and starvation, they are rescued by a neighbor, Brother Bigler. He, too, practices plural marriage and is drawn to Mary, who resists his advances. She realizes the significance of polygamy (multiple wives ensure progeny), but Mary has no wish to be submissive or to marry. Although initially a survival tale, recalling some of the sacrifices in Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It (2008), the novel skillfully addresses the claustrophobic, cultlike burden of belief and how a willful individual like Mary could be coerced to comply. Through no fault of their own, the Higginsens are treated like “beggar children” by one of Brother Bigler’s wives, who will later risk her own status in an act of kindness to Mary. Perhaps Brother’s wives aren’t as happy as they claim. Sensing the incongruity, resourceful Mary both adapts and rebels. In a genre saturated with faux apocalyptic tales of teens in peril, here’s an emotionally wrenching narrative out of U.S. history.

Powerful, historically based novel of survival, beliefs, adaptation and resistance.

Pub Date: April 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615998572

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Helper Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 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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