An elegantly written story with serious concerns is lamentably undermined by much too often showing more than it tells.

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THE FALL OF ROME

Evocative but disappointingly inert, Southgate’s second outing (after Another Way to Dance, 1996) depicts the conflicting tensions of experience and expectations that confront African-American males in traditionally white schools.

The carefully organized tale has three protagonists, each representing different points of view as they negotiate the minefield of race relations at Chelsea, a Connecticut boarding school for boys. Each has a reason for being at Chelsea, whose headmaster is eager to have a more diverse student body (a rich alumnus has offered a big gift if minority enrollment increases). African-American Latin teacher Jerome Washington has been on the faculty for more than 20 years. A graduate of Harvard who taught in Boston public schools until his brother Isaiah, a felon, was killed, has found peace there teaching the language and culture of a civilization he believes was racially egalitarian as well as advanced. Known for never smiling, he believes his role is to introduce the students to a great culture; demonstrate that African-Americans are not all the same; and teach that what matters is “individual effort and rigor.” African-American freshman Rashid Bryson, from Brooklyn and still mourning the recent death of older brother Kofi, who was killed while observing a robbery, wants the education Chelsea can provide. And idealistic white English teacher Jana Hansen, back East and burned out from teaching in Cleveland’s inner-city schools, is ready to make a new life. As the schoolyear passes, Jerome gives out some tough treatment to Rashid; Rashid, trying to adapt, is hurt by Jerome’s ways; and Jana, though attracted to Jerome, is determined that Rashid succeed. While the two teachers disagree about how best to help Rashid, the boy, finally talks about his brother’s death at an assembly, but the scars all three bear, especially Jerome, provoke further painful outcomes.

An elegantly written story with serious concerns is lamentably undermined by much too often showing more than it tells.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-86500-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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