Alien shenanigans delivered with a sense of Disney Channel mischief rather than Scully/Mulder gloom.

DRUIDS ARE FROM OUTER SPACE, ALIENS ARE FROM ENGLAND

In this debut YA novel, two teenage siblings host a foreign exchange student who plunges them into a mystery involving aliens and Illinois crop circles.

In the greater Chicago area, the household of teen siblings Natalie and Chase Dailey is hosting a British foreign exchange student named Fletcher Jain. Clever Chase suspects there’s more to the newcomer than meets the eye when he spots a mystery woman giving Fletch a secret envelope at the airport. When a crop circle and a mutilated cow come to light in the rural countryside, Fletch—actually an affiliate of an international flying-saucer investigation network called UFORB—is uncommonly interested and gets the eager Chase and the somewhat skeptical Natalie to join him for their own personal sleuthing. In a parallel plotline, somewhat confusing but eventually merging with the Daileys’ part of the narrative, professor David Wu has written a book featuring the thesis that advanced ancient alien explorers landed in the British Isles, interbred with humans, and gave rise to legends of wonder-working “Druids.” He is also here, in Deadwood, Illinois, prompted by the mysterious death of a reader who promised to reveal to Wu a whole list of humans next scheduled to be “abducted” by UFOs, thus enabling the professor to catch space intruders in the act. But Wu’s meddling gets him and his own teenage daughter, Janelle, caught up in considerable underhanded malice among Deadwood elites. With moon boots firmly on YA soil, Murphy takes a largely light, comedic approach to this SF conspiracy plot. The vibe is not unlike the roller-coaster thrills of The 39 Clues series, though written for a slightly more elevated age range and with an actual body count. There are also edutainment bits about ancient code writing (“steganography”), how hoaxers create crop circles using simple planks and rope, and pop-culture shoutouts to the Star Wars series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Harry Potter. As opposed to The X-Files, starring the serious Dana Scully/Fox Mulder team, a natural precursor, this tale is breezy and angst-free, with cool illustrations by Catling (A Pirate Christmas, 2018, etc.) setting a lively ambiance.

Alien shenanigans delivered with a sense of Disney Channel mischief rather than Scully/Mulder gloom.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-08-781100-0

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Cooper Murphy

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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