A fantasy tale with unforgettable characters and a convincing, insightful message.

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THE BOOK OF DOG

In Benobi’s (After, 2005, as Claire Tristram) allegorical novel, a mysterious toxin turning people into animals turns out to be a sign of the Apocalypse.

There’s something ominous about a yellow fog rolling into California from the south. It suddenly appears at the same time that Stella King, a pregnant young woman, runs away from her aunt’s home (her mother is in jail and her father’s not in the picture). Stella hitches a ride with a woman named Margie Peach to Nethalem on San Francisco Bay, where her boyfriend, Lix Tetrax, who’s also the baby’s father, is waiting. Meanwhile, a doctor at the Centers for Disease Control identifies the yellow cloud as a chemical agent called Agent-T, which is also cropping up throughout the rest of the country. Its origins are unknown, but it’s physically transforming people into animals (who retain their human minds), and girls and women appear to be particularly susceptible. Margie, for example, becomes a dog, while waitress Wanda Lubiejewski’s unexpected metamorphosis into a bear scares her cheating husband into arming himself for protection. Stella, meanwhile, hears stories of people rioting, cities on fire, and “Angels” and “Beasts” engaged in war on Earth. Fate puts Stella, Margie, and Wanda together, along with U.S. Air Force Maj. Eureka Yamanaka, caregiver Mary Mbwembwe, and Nethalem villager Josefina Guzman. All undergo changes, physical and otherwise; Wanda, for instance, garners new emotional strength as her preteen daughter’s protector. But the End of Days is upon them, as the book of Revelation has already foretold. Soon, the six women will face off against the being who may be behind the Apocalypse. Benobi’s story offers wonderfully surreal moments rich with metaphor, as when signs of Agent-T’s approach create an atmosphere of foreboding; Stella has conversations with her unborn child, who offers warnings about people before Stella encounters them. These scenes are complemented by the author’s illustrations throughout, which resemble sketches from an artist’s notebook. The pictures, while vibrant and fully comprehensible, are typically unrealistic, depicting Mary with thin, squiggly arms, for instance, with an eye floating above the rest of her face. Benobi also fills her pages with powerful themes, particularly exploring the ways that a male-dominated society treats and views women. These can sometimes be too on-the-nose; for example, Wanda believes people will react to her bear self with fear and hate, unnecessarily adding that it’s what “humans often do when confronted with a creature that they can’t control or dominate.” Nevertheless, such comments have merit, as when Stella notes that women in many religions tend to get “the short end.” Overall, Benobi’s prose is straightforward and concise, with frequent instances of poetry: “Dawn was raw at the edges and the air smelled fresh and washed clean….Life at the moment was rich and full of promise.” The plot effectively establishes how the various players’ paths are destined to intersect, and anticipation of these distinctive women’s inevitable interactions propels the story forward.

A fantasy tale with unforgettable characters and a convincing, insightful message.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9996546-1-3

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Vegetablian Books

Review Posted Online: May 14, 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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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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