A vivid, if incomplete, account through American eyes of sub-Saharan poverty and sustainable ways to help.




In this middle-grade novel based on real events, a 13-year-old American girl visits a remote Kenyan village and discovers much about Africa and herself.

Hannah Higgins, 13, is used to luxuries that feel small: hot showers, ice cubes, good cellphone service. And like many teenagers, she’s impatient, rude, and critical of her parents. Spending a summer in a far-off Kenyan village isn’t her idea of fun, but she loves spending time with her Uncle Brian, who’s working to help end poverty in the country. So she accompanies her mother, a nurse, to Sauri, a small rural village. Hannah struggles to accept unappetizing food, the ever present smell of manure, dust, heat, and a lack of electricity. But after she settles in, visits a village school, and makes a few friends, her sense of compassion awakens. She sees the hospital’s lack of necessary medicine, and she’s struck by the upcoming Harvest Festival’s reason for celebration: “No one in Sauri has died because of hunger in a whole year.” Some tragic news makes Hannah want to return home early, but her mother convinces her to stay and make the experience worthwhile. Seeing how the villagers take care of one another inspires her to look for ways to improve the school, clinic, and roads and to change her life’s direction. Debut author Ball traveled to Sauri, Kenya, as an adult, and she includes photographs of actual people and places she mentions in this feel-good story. She also provides additional information for readers who might want to get involved in similar tasks. Readers will likely find Hannah a relatable character—she’s no saint, but she’s good-hearted, willing to learn, and poised to grow. The story doesn’t mention a few of the region’s serious problems, though, especially those affecting girls; child marriage and female genital mutilation, for example, are still practiced in Kenya, although they’re illegal and on the decline. Ball also mentions a girl’s 6-mile morning walk to fetch water but not the various dangers, such as assault and waterborne disease, which such errands expose many African women to.

A vivid, if incomplete, account through American eyes of sub-Saharan poverty and sustainable ways to help.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947159-00-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: One Elm Books

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


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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