Over-the-top and hard to stop. A third installment is promised.

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CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND

Kwan (Crazy Rich Asians, 2013) returns with an equally good-natured, catty-as-hell sequel to his bestselling roman à clef about China’s new and old money dynasties.

For those not cued in, Kwan’s tone is breakneck and utterly disarming—part Oscar Wilde, part Judith Krantz, part Arthur Frommer—as he reintroduces his jet-setting ensemble of socialites and social climbers. They include: Nick and Rachel (star-crossed Asian-American lovers who are searching for her father while avoiding his meddlesome Singaporean mom); Mrs. Bernard Tai (aka Kitty Pong, former mainland soap-opera star, who must temper her nouveau urges if she hopes to impress members of Hong Kong’s exclusive dining clubs); Astrid Leong (married “beneath” her rank, wears off-the-rack dresses that, on her, pass for designer; her jewelry and class are the real deal, however); plus a circle of spoiled-rich 20-somethings who think they’re re-enacting The Fast and Furious. Whenever a character drops a salty Hokkien, Cantonese, or Mandarin phrase or an unfamiliar reference, Kwan translates in a wry footnote (a device he used to great effect in his previous book). Occasionally the sendups of squillionaire excess fall a little flat: “Look—it’s a koi pond,” gasps Rachel as she absorbs the décor of her Shanghai host’s private jet. “God, you scared me. For a moment I thought something was wrong,” answers her fiance, Nick, who stands to inherit one of China’s great fortunes but prefers teaching undergrads at NYU. “You don’t think anything’s wrong?” Rachel presses. No wonder Nick’s mom, the not-to-be-bested Eleanor Young, tries her utmost to topple their engagement! (Until she stumbles onto the true identity of Rachel’s birth father—and is now using it to reel her son home to face up to his privileged heritage, with unanticipated results.) Most hilarious when he’s parodying uber-rich Chinese aunties who’d “rather camp out six to a room or sleep on the floor than spend money on hotels” and professional image consultants who help clients “take [their] most embarrassing biographical details and turn them into assets,” Kwan keeps more than a few plot resolutions in the air but delivers at least one priceless declaration of love: “The bathroom [renovation] is fully funded….Now please pick out a dress.”

Over-the-top and hard to stop. A third installment is promised.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53908-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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