MOLLY FLANAGAN AND THE HOLY GHOST

Skinner's second novel, which picks up where Old Jim Canaan (1990) leaves off, tells the genuine, tender, and wise tale of young Jim Canaan's family in the voice of his daughter, whose lazy eye encourages a unique vision of the world. Twelve-year-old Molly Flanagan lives in a sort of netherworld. She's overshadowed by her handsome, bright, and talented older brother, Nat, who can play the piano by ear, is a natural-born actor, gets away with swearing in front of his parents, and is confident and at ease with himself. She's pulled in two different directions by family matriarchs: Catholic Grandmother Byrd, on her father's side, believes in filling Molly with ``the great drama and mystery'' of her faith, while her mother's mother, Baptist Grandmother Willie, works to save Molly from a religion ``so bedeviled...[that it's] governed by an Italian posing as Christ on earth.'' She lives in a house where secrets are kept from her. No one reveals that her grandfather committed suicide years ago, that her mother has gotten pregnant, or that she subsequently loses the baby. Even Molly's own eyes mislead her, causing her to see two different things at once (like her physical therapist's shoes, which, Molly notes with interest even as she's supposed to focus on her therapist's nose, always match her outfit). But while Skinner makes it obvious that Molly's never going to be more than a workhorse on the piano, never going to win people over like her brother does, never going to unravel the confusing tapestry of organized religion, she also manages to translate Molly's peculiar vision into a powerful new way of seeing so that this otherwise average girl uncovers potent truths (like her brother's love for a beautiful and abused schoolmate). Of course, when her father finally gathers the funds for an operation to ``correct'' the errant eye, reader's sympathize with Molly's reluctance to give up her special gift. Opulent detail cloaked in whispered prose makes Skinner's tale as subtly artless as Molly's own self-discovery.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-56512-026-4

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1994

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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