A heartfelt family tale, hampered by its organizational style.


A long-suffering woman confronts more turmoil after her boyfriend kidnaps her daughter.

At the beginning of Levine’s (North of Nowhere, 2014, etc.) nonlinear novel, Marcy Travers is knocked unconscious and then wakes up in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. Her boyfriend, Boyd, has struck her and taken her daughter, Katie, and is apparently on the run. She first met Boyd at work, where he was the janitor. At almost 7 feet tall, he came across as a gentle giant, and had become something of a stepfather to Katie. As the search for Boyd and Katie begins, the story goes back to a variety of time periods and introduces a number of different characters, including Marcy’s sister, Tanya; their mother, Jo; their foster mother, Mrs. Edmonds; and Boyd’s mother, Grace. Marcy had a tough childhood. Her mother raised her in a neighborhood of bars and liquor stores, and Marcy watched as Jo became a penniless alcoholic who at one point resorts to prostitution. Baby Tanya is abandoned at a church and eventually both she and Marcy end up in the home of Mrs. Edmonds, a stoic but somewhat stable foster mother. Separately, young Boyd is not treated well by many people; he faces bullies at school and feels very insecure about his height. In the present, Marcy tries to enlist the help of Grace in the search for Boyd and Katie while also battling her own demons. Marcy cannot forgive her mother for the past, and Jo and she wrestle with forgiveness as the hunt for Katie grows dire. Levine’s characters live in a hardscrabble universe and he does an admirable job of portraying their turbulent lives in environments that offer little compassion. Characters such as Mrs. Edmonds, who found her calling as a foster mother, or Boyd, wracked with loneliness and self-doubt, are certainly well developed. Time and place are more difficult to pin down. The novel’s small Southern town seems a bit more like a struggling Rust Belt city. Because the book jumps around often, and with no dates given, it’s unknown at the beginning of each chapter what year it is or how old the characters are, and that distraction can overwhelm a reader.

A heartfelt family tale, hampered by its organizational style.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5354-3510-9

Page Count: 244

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2017

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


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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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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