It’s possible to imagine literary recluses J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee coming out of hiding to forge this shaggy, rakish,...

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THEY COME IN ALL COLORS

A gripping, scorching, and at times vexing debut novel tracks the physical and psychological jolts that come with growing up mixed race above and below the Mason-Dixon line at opposite ends of the 1960s.

When we first meet Huey Fairchild, it's 1969 and he’s in very big trouble. The only student of color at an all-boys prep school in Manhattan, the 15-year-old Huey has knocked a white student unconscious in the dining hall. Their dispute is over a girl, though school authorities immediately misperceive the cause. But then, misperception is the story of Huey’s life, and author Hansen offers the flashbacks to prove it. The story makes frequent and sustained shifts back in time to Akersburg, Georgia, seven years earlier, when 8-year-old Huey, though precocious and keenly observant in so many ways, cannot understand why his summer is being ruined at every turn. First, the local swimming pool is shut down shortly after he’s about to use it. Then black protestors show up outside a downtown luncheonette to demonstrate, and in the ensuing uproar, Huey is struck by a car and breaks his arm. Then a black farmhand who’d worked with Huey’s white peanut-farmer father before joining the demonstrations falls to his death from a ladder, arousing grief and suspicion from the local black community. Huey’s reactions throughout that summer of 1962 are curious. His attitudes toward the local African-American population are as oblivious and, sometimes, dismissive as those of his father. At one point, he recalls thinking of his light-skinned black mother as “the darkest white person I know.” And there’s no letup when the summer ends. His first day back at school, the younger Huey responds to a barrage of racial epithets directed toward him by saying to his teacher, “my daddy is white, so I’m white. You know that, right?” Such credulity mystifies and, at times, exasperates the reader until one understands that Huey’s painful passage toward understanding himself is a proper analogy for the struggle America has, to the present day, to understand its own complex fate.

It’s possible to imagine literary recluses J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee coming out of hiding to forge this shaggy, rakish, yet haunting account of a smart aleck’s coming-of-age in harsh times.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7232-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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