In the morally complex genre of superheroes, this tale deftly delivers hope and optimism.



In this YA sci-fi debut, a powerful teen attends college to train his body and mind in helping others.

College freshman Gabriel Green of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, can move objects with his mind. He’s one of many whose superpowers stem from the transits of Venus, which bathe the Earth in gamma radiation filtered through the planet’s atmosphere. In selecting a college, Gabriel decides on the Saboth Institute of America because it offers classes that help gifted individuals hone their abilities. It’s also the home of the famous Dr. Drake, a scientific giant in the field of studying the gifted. On the way, Gabriel’s telekinesis saves the lives of his family during a car accident, bolstering his decision to train. At SIA, he meets his roommate, Jake Burns, a pyrokinetic, and 16-year-old intern Simon Cruz, who can communicate with machines. Gabriel refines his telekinesis under Coach V, and later helps Jake and Simon conduct experiments that will allow Jake better access and control over fire. Gabriel’s also enchanted by a red-haired musician named Serena. But around campus, there’s chatter of students vanishing for unexplained stretches of time. When Serena disappears, Gabriel and his friends leap into action. What they discover cuts to the core of the institute. In his novel, Valencia skillfully pitches his tent in X-Men territory, albeit presenting a world that doesn’t necessarily fear and hate those with powers. Gifted individuals mix in schools across the nation with regular students. Nevertheless, Gabriel chooses his role model, the dedicated Coach V, “not because of things he did, but because of the kind of man he was.” The upbeat narrative introduces a unique caveat in the form of Ferentheil’s laws, which say “that no one can hurt themselves with their own gift.” With a gentle ramp-up to an action-filled finale, the buoyant story flows more like a novella. But readers may feel that smartphone use is underutilized in the plot overall (considering the teenage cast), despite the vivid exploration of Simon’s powers in the end.

In the morally complex genre of superheroes, this tale deftly delivers hope and optimism.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-973604-97-6

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: March 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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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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