A stirring historical novel anchored by Richards’ acutely drawn female protagonist.



A tragic dust blizzard begets life-altering changes for a Kansas schoolteacher and her family in Richards’ Depression-era debut.

1934 marks the third year of drought and failed crops on the Mason farm. Water is so scarce that each family member—gruff patriarch Cal; encouraging matriarch Rachel; wild-child Lily; and elder daughter Sarah, the book’s narrator—can only wash the dust from their hair once a month. (The rest of the time, Sarah reports, they have to “scratch it out and shake it out and comb it out.”) Nonetheless, the tight-knit family perseveres until a harsh dust blizzard sweeps through town. When the storm settles, Lily is nowhere to be found; Rachel, meanwhile, is discovered dead in the family barn, crushed by a fallen beam. Afterward, at the behest of her mother’s close friend Evelyn Loman, Sarah takes a teaching job in the nearby town of Cardinal, while her withdrawn father, unnerved by Lily’s disappearance, tends to the farm. In Cardinal, Sarah contends with townspeople whose “good intentions flew at me like crows pecking out my eyes.” Besides Evelyn, Cardinal’s mayor, there’s her husband, Al, Cardinal’s inept sheriff; the Rev. Palmer, a pious Bible thumper determined to sterilize women and children whose genes he deems unfit to pass on; and Emmett Diehl, the odious bank head who controls the Masons’ mortgage. When she isn’t facing off with Cardinal’s gossipy upper crust, Sarah bonds with Maxene, a kindly local looked down upon by the others for her perceived promiscuity. Gradually, Sarah’s time in Cardinal reveals not only the town’s sinister treatment of women like Maxene, but also several stunning truths about Sarah’s own family. Though the plot occasionally feels forced, there’s undeniable joy and pathos in watching Sarah navigate every twist. Richards consistently stays true to the character, whose battle with the expectations of womanhood yields some of the book’s most telling moments: “I didn’t want to wish [Al] good bye,” she thinks at one point. “Mom’s training got the better of me, though, and I waved and smiled until he was out of sight.”

A stirring historical novel anchored by Richards’ acutely drawn female protagonist.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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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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