An infuriating, frightening, and compassionate story of abuse.



A vulnerable 14-year-old girl becomes the victim of a beloved teacher in Levine’s debut novel.

Five years ago, when Alexandra “Alex” Geller was 9 years old, her mother died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Alex’s father, Dr. Richard Geller, was emotionally ill-equipped to deal with raising Alex and her two younger brothers, Jason and Ari. Enter biology teacher Paula Hanover, who’s beautiful, fun-loving, and rebellious; she befriends Alex, who’s a student in her class. Paula praises the teenager, offers her guidance, and gradually becomes the single most important person in her life. To Alex, Paula is a parental figure who fills the excruciating void left by her mother’s death, and for the first time in many years, Alex feels that she’s not alone. Paula, in turn, plays upon the young girl’s insecurities and her need for validation and love, manipulating her through a combination of reward and punishment. She begins driving Alex home at the end of the school day and shares inappropriately intimate details about her own life. She also slaps Alex, painfully squeezes the back of her neck, and eventually starts spanking her. Alex accepts all this as proof that Paula loves her; early on, she begins keeping a list (“Ways I Know Paula Likes Me”) that she adds to throughout the novel. The very worst punishment for her is when Paula periodically freezes her out. The author, a marriage and family therapist, focuses on a subtler form of abuse than most readers will be accustomed to reading about. Alex is the articulate, first-person narrator of the tale; readers experience her obsession and emotional deconstruction from the inside, and it’s a chilling ride. Levine effectively weaves her cautionary tale by drawing from her years as a therapist dealing with “trauma stories.” Her deep understanding of “grooming” behavior—the process by which an abuser leads a victim into a dependent relationship—helps her to create a character that jumps off the page. Overall, this is an important addition to the discussion of abuse prevention and detection.

An infuriating, frightening, and compassionate story of abuse.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5355-1158-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2016

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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