A promising but uneven coming-of-age tale.

VEIL OF SECRECY

In this debut novel, a young, adopted woman repeats a painful legacy she does not know she has inherited. 

Sixteen-year-old Julie lives in a rural fishing village in Newfoundland in 1950. She has a penchant for writing and an appreciation for the nature-rich environment that inspires her creativity. But Julie dreams of trading her quaint hometown life for one more replete with big-city ambitions. This dream becomes unexpectedly deferred after Julie has an affair with her married—and later angry—bakery boss that results in a pregnancy. Upon learning this, Julie’s parents take her to a convent in Nova Scotia that promises a discreet environment in which she can have her baby, give it up for adoption, and finish her high school studies. Julie—tortured but with little say in the matter—does just this. Flash forward 16 years to Julie’s daughter, a teenage Marina Cynthia, admiring the view of Manhattan from the picture window of her adoptive parents’ luxury apartment. Unlike Julie, Marina seems to have everything a young woman coming-of-age could ask for—brains, wealth, beauty, adoring parents, a loyal cousin and friend named Laurie, and an inherited passion for writing. Still, Marina, oblivious to her adoption history, has long harbored nagging questions about the lack of resemblance between herself and her parents. These questions resurface when Marina finds herself in a predicament similar to her biological mother’s situation more than a decade ago—pregnant at 16 with the child of an older man who abandons her. From here, Marina is unintentionally launched into the process of excavating the truth of her origin story. In this ambitious novel, Franceschini’s tenderness toward the plight of the adopted child and the transformative experience of teenage pregnancy is appreciable. Further, her central plot idea has intriguing dramatic potential. That said, the novel’s execution is a bit flawed. The prose sometimes delivers clichés (“Julie sat in the soft, brown chair…with her hands holding her head and tears flowing like a never-ending river”). In addition, the dialogue often has a stilted quality (Julie “uttered, in a strained voice, ‘Looks like nightfall is ending our time of bliss. We have to separate now…I hope I make it to college someday. I need to prepare for my future”). And emotional encounters are resolved as quickly and as smoothly as the plot moves, which makes for bland, unabsorbing reading.

A promising but uneven coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64544-080-2

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Page Publishing, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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