An engaging coming-of-age story focused on the unraveling of truths hidden just beneath the surface.

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SUMMERLINGS

Eight-year-old John revels in summertime hijinks with his two best friends while storm clouds gather all around, obscuring the sun.

Howorth (Flying Shoes, 2014) first introduces John on a tour of the verdant suburban street where he lives outside of Washington, D.C., with his sister, Liz, and their grandparents Brickie and Dimma. John’s parents are divorced. His dad is an unemployed drinker and carouser, and his mother, who may or may not have tuberculosis, has been in a hospital for two years. Tensions roil under the calm lawns of idyllic Connors Lane. John rides his bike, catches spiders, and hatches strategies with his best buds, Ivan and Max. But there’s an undercurrent of unhappiness and distrust on the tree-lined streets of the neighborhood. It’s 1959, and just about everybody hails from a different country impacted by World War II. The cold war on Connors Lane seems especially frigid. The people who live next door carried their prejudices and hatreds with them when they crossed the Atlantic. John and his friends develop their own version of the Marshall Plan to bring everyone together: the Beaver Plan, a blowout party/fiesta organized over the course of a summer. The three boys idealize Ivan’s stylish young aunt, Elena, who helps them prepare for the big event. She smokes Vogues, drinks Cuba Libres, and buys them ice cream. Elena and her brother are Ukrainian immigrants who harbor dark secrets about their past. On the night of the party, a mysterious tragedy occurs. Was it an accident or something more sinister? John, Max, and Ivan will never be the same. Howorth has a gift for crafting memorable characters and an authentic sense of place. She writes with a clear understanding of the catastrophes seeded by intolerance while creating a rich overview of America on the brink of the turbulent 1960s.

An engaging coming-of-age story focused on the unraveling of truths hidden just beneath the surface.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54464-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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