An auspicious debut that blends a number of disparate-seeming tones into something surprisingly coherent—and moving.

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THE LOST BOYS SYMPHONY

Ferguson’s playful debut novel mixes a coming-of-age story with time travel.

“I feel like I should be changing,” 19-year-old Val says. Henry, her high school boyfriend, no longer seems like enough, so she ditches him and his best friend, Gabe, for life at NYU. Soon after, Henry disappears, leaving Gabe to search for him and also to reconcile his latent feelings for Val. But Ferguson doesn’t keep Henry’s whereabouts a secret: He's been abducted by older versions of himself—one at 80, one at 41. Henry can travel through time, see, and his older versions want to help him avoid mistakes, even if it means altering their own realities. Sound confusing, like a Charlie Kaufman–esque head trip? This plot summary makes the novel seem more difficult than it is. As Henry moves through time, Gabe and Val remain in place, and Ferguson gives equal weight to each point of view. In other words, though Henry’s story may be tricky, Ferguson never strays far from the anchor of the other two characters, a neat narrative maneuver that makes the novel not as confusing as it should be. Despite all the time travel, Ferguson’s core is a coming-of-age tale that takes the form of a love triangle; remove the fantasy, and you have a novel as old-fashioned as Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot (2011). But that’s not a bad thing—Ferguson never stresses the weirdness of his construction, focusing instead on convincingly realistic details so that even the surrealism seems earthbound. The novel never quite reaches the conclusion it deserves—Ferguson opts for mezzo piano when fortissimo would’ve been best—but no matter: This book, like good music, will sweep you up. 

An auspicious debut that blends a number of disparate-seeming tones into something surprisingly coherent—and moving.

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-32399-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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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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