A stellar futuristic tale with an exemplary heroine.



A teenager hopes to prove her merit at a prominent space-station school by finding a solution to a plague devastating her home planet, Earth, in this YA sci-fi debut.

Emi Hayden Swift dreams of attending the Intergalactic Institute of Science and Technology. But as IGIST seemingly rejects the 14-year-old’s application, she may have to settle for another school. Tragedy unfortunately follows: She loses her father, Max, to the plague, an infectious black cloud with fractal tentacles that keeps most earthlings hidden in their homes. Now an orphan, she only has Sadee, her flying, orb-shaped droid, and her new pal, Jacqueline “Jack” Lemore, the daughter of Emi’s favorite teacher on Earth. Jack is a space transporter by trade and a misfit by choice—one of a group of humans who genetically modify their bodies with animal attributes. At a recruiting station, Emi takes a general test that scores her a scholarship to a Star League school, which includes IGIST. But first she must undergo a probationary period on the moon, where the IGIST space station is orbiting. Not only does Emi, the first earthling student in two decades, endure Martian bullies, but it’s also clear Martian students have the advantage, with years of prep work and tutoring specifically for IGIST tests. She’s convinced that, in order to prove herself, she’ll need to enter the Agon, a science competition, with a plan and means to thwart the plague on Earth. But when validating her project requires a live sample of the plague, Emi’s proposal could become downright dangerous. Emi’s determination is her most admirable trait. She’s an appealing heroine who never allows others to discourage her, even as some suggest the new student wait a year for an Agon submission. Similarly, in one scene, she is certain she will fail a test she’s currently taking but refuses to give up. But like all great protagonists, Emi is believably flawed. She, for example, stubbornly insists on working alone despite offers of help, and it’s a long while before she acknowledges the benefits of teamwork. Supporting characters are likewise dynamic: Emi earns her share of allies, but not everyone stays on her side, while apparent antagonists are occasionally surprising. Jack is a standout and headlines her own subplot, in which she stirs up trouble with the Terrans, a terrorist group that targets whatever it deems anti-earthling. But the best player is Sadee, an apt example of the story’s dense characterization and rich technology. Sadee is impressive as tech, communicating via written messages, utilizing a device that provides a brain-to-brain link with Emi. But she’s also the novel’s most endearing character; as Emi equates emotion with color, Sadee glows with a bright variety, signifying whatever feeling she surmises a human would have. During the frenzied final act, for example—which entails a couple of superb plot twists—Sadee, in response to a panicked crowd of people, glows yellow. Larson’s taut descriptions and brief chapters generate a speedy pace, complemented by debut illustrator Jung’s stark black-and-white images that practically burst with detail.

A stellar futuristic tale with an exemplary heroine.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-79067-067-3

Page Count: 295

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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