An uneven birds-eye view of one family’s journey.




In this debut novel, Kiefer portrays the struggles of a multicultural Texas family.

Corrado emigrates from Sicily to the United States in 1905, eventually establishing himself as a migrant worker and marrying a Mexican woman, Violeta. The young couple’s life in Texas is difficult, and Violeta bears an astonishing 18 children in 22 years, who eventually provide help with field work. One of the daughters, Fabia, later gets pregnant by a miserable, abusive man, with whom she goes on to have 11 more kids. The eldest girl in that family, Lucia, goes on to marry a white man, Rand, under the mistaken assumption that white men don’t beat their wives. Together, they have three children, and Rand regularly sexually abuses the middle child, Mateo. When Lucia discovers this, she takes her kids, leaves her husband, and embarks on the difficult life of a poor, single working mother. She meets a man named Gerald at the bar where she works, falls in love, and marries him. But financial hardship continues, followed by tragedy; in need of money and stability, Lucia later marries Donald, who’s in the U.S. Air Force, and this union lasts. Here, the novel takes a curious spin: the narrative leaps back in time, recounting the same events from Lucia’s eldest son Julian’s point of view, followed by Mateo’s. While creative, this tactic drags things down, as one must read slight variations of the same story three times. That said, Mateo’s journey does extend the time frame of the previous sections, showing his evolution from troubled teenager to successful lawyer. Even with Mateo’s clear arc, though, the novel may struggle to engage readers, due to its underdeveloped, clunky prose: “While he, Mike, that is, was definitely heterosexual, even if he wasn’t, there was no way he would allow himself to be seduced by a teenage boy.” When the author lets dramatic moments breathe, however, the book finds sturdy ground; for example, a scene in which Rand ruthlessly hunts young Mateo is absolutely chilling. Unfortunately, the book is littered with anecdotes that have little bearing on the overall narrative, including minor robberies and consequence-free one-night stands.

An uneven birds-eye view of one family’s journey.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-979585-03-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 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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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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