HALIFAX

At an ordinary private school in California, a spaceship carrying alien prisoners has crashed, something has escaped and it’s up to three seemingly normal teens to track it down.

In Dunlap’s young adult novel, nothing is quite as it seems. Farrell, Izzy and Rom might look like normal teenagers, but they’re really aliens, working for the West Coast Division of the Committee, tasked with hunting down escaped alien prisoners. When a prisoner barge crashes onto the football of Lexham Preparatory Academy and a prisoner escapes from the wreckage, the three must disguise themselves as high school students to track down the missing alien; Farrell joins the basketball squad, Izzy befriends an outcast named Carolyn and Rom battles with his aging Math teacher. Dunlap expertly renders the three leads as complex, multidimensional characters. As the leader, Farrell is stoic yet cares deeply for his makeshift family. When he meets Nora, Farrell is inexplicably drawn to her as he sees past the façade she wears. Izzy may be the least girly of girls, but behind her tough act she can read the emotions of others. Rom, a genius when it comes to math, explosions and computers, desperately yearns for a real family. Although they may be alien, Dunlap makes sure that her characters have real emotions and human complexities. At times, however, our heroes seem almost too human; the reader only learns about their origins late in the novel, and the ways in which they are different from the humans of Earth aren’t fully developed. This slow reveal of information contrasts almost too sharply with the fast pace of the plot. But soon the three alien hunters realize that the cheerleaders of Lexham are swelling in ranks and acting strangely. Nora and an alien enthusiast named Bobby join forces with Farrell, Izzy and Rom to find the escaped alien. As they confront the escaped prisoner at the Halloween Carnival, they discover that this alien is, too, not what it seems, and Nora is right in the middle of the mystery. Despite some cliché plot turns found in most young adult novels and some bad one-liners, Dunlap’s prose is rich with character and setting details and vivid descriptions. Filled with great characters, good mystery and a fun twist on normal high school appearance, Dunlap’s debut is sure to appeal to teen readers.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Publish Green

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2012

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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