Essential for the development and reassessment of language-arts curricula in California schools.


The City and the Fields


A broad debut survey of a century’s worth of Golden State writing.

These short, manageable chapters examine specific eras or identities of California-centric fiction via well-selected quotations and brief discussions of various themes. From there, students can pursue original source material on their own. Significantly, Breiger, a longtime high school English teacher, addresses not just ethnic and gender diversity, but also class considerations and, to a lesser extent, sexuality. Of particular note are occasional moments when the author inserts personal asides into his analysis, as when he identifies with Charles Bukowski’s portrayal of postal workers based on his own experiences as an employee at the USPS main office in Oakland. Regarding Of Mice and Men, he writes: “Why do I honor John Steinbeck’s memory? Because I know he would have felt for my sister, understood her struggle with a seizure disorder, identified with her bravery and pain.” Similarly, Breiger isn’t afraid to share opinions that may be unpopular in certain circles—criticizing, for example, Huey Newton or defending Richard Rodriguez. This work nicely embodies the tension between recognizing literature’s so-called universal themes and erasing differences. Indeed, Breiger argues, disagreements between writers—even those often grouped together—should be welcomed: “The argument between Frank Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston does not need to have a winner or loser. Literature is not about winning or losing but about the attempt to find our individual truth that is, yet, about more than ourselves.” Some of the references (Phil Donahue, Peter Jennings, Maury Povich) may seem outdated for younger readers, though probably not for teachers of a certain age. Still, it’s easy to envision this handy reference as the first stop for students researching independent or group projects. Breiger’s humanist approach to literary criticism and appreciation supports the notion that literature must be accessible to all students as they engage with ideas that, with varying degrees of success, represent them and their communities.

Essential for the development and reassessment of language-arts curricula in California schools.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9913652-0-3

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Valley Memories Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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