DANGEROUS DIFFERENCES

American Indians and colonial settlers struggle to understand each other in Virginia of 1700.

In just a few years, the Saponi Indian tribe has lost half of its people to war and the white man’s sickness. To make matters worse, it’s facing increasing pressure from more powerful Iroquois and Tuscarora raiders, and, of course, from the endless wave of European advancement. Unsure of how to meet these challenges, the Saponi chief sends his 13-year-old son, Kadomico, to school in Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia. This fast-paced work of historical fiction from Laird (Quail High Above the Shenandoah, 2006) then follows Kadomico and other Indian students as they learn more about the English, their “firesticks,” their “talking papers” and their religion. Meanwhile, Tuscarora raiders attack a defenseless Nahyssan village and capture a girl on whom Kadomico has a wild crush. Laird vividly describes daily life in 1700 for both colonists and Indians and peppers in some suspenseful fight scenes. Though generally well-researched, the book contains a few factual mistakes. Antelope, for example, never lived in the southeastern United States, and pheasants hadn’t yet been introduced. Some of the dialogue also comes across as wooden or hackneyed. “Horses act crazy, no good off-trail, no good in the river. Horses are no good,” an Indian warrior says at one point. Overall, though, Laird captures the spirit of the time. His characters, both Indian and white, are overwhelmingly brave, competent and interested in helping their fellow humans (not counting one group of drunken white yokels and the troublemaking Tuscarora). This is mostly a feel-good book. Laird hints at, but never goes into detail, about how the settlers eventually drove the Saponi and their neighbors practically to extinction. Perhaps that will come in the planned sequel. A worthwhile read that focuses on the daily lives of Indians and colonists rather than on famous historical events.

 

Pub Date: May 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-0982544327

Page Count: 363

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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