A skillfully crafted and bracingly unsentimental look at one mother’s love—sometimes tender, sometimes frantic, always...

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DANIEL ISN’T TALKING

The author of Dying Young (1989) tells the story of a young mother with an autistic son.

Melanie Marsh, an American living in London, has a daughter named Emily, a sweet little girl with blonde curls who chatters exuberantly and loves to paint. She also has Daniel. Daniel isn’t normal. He cries a lot—wildly, and for no apparent reason. He hurts himself. He rejects affection from both his parents, and he refuses to play. And even though he is almost three, he doesn’t talk. When she and her husband, Stephen, learn that Daniel is autistic, her fear is compounded by guilt and confusion: “He’s always been like this . . . a diagnosis, a label such as autism, does not change the child. And yet . . . I cannot help feeling as though I started the journey this morning with my beloved little boy and am returning with a slightly alien, educable time bomb.” And, of course, the diagnosis does change everything. Melanie acquiesces to her husband’s insistence that four-year-old Emily start school. Stephen leaves for a business trip and doesn’t come home. And although she tries to be there for her daughter, Melanie’s desire to teach Daniel to talk quickly supersedes everything else in her life. Fed up with specialists from National Health Service and immune to Stephen’s suggestion that they institutionalize Daniel, Melanie turns to therapist Andy O’Connor for help. Andy not only coaxes words—sentences, even—from Daniel, but he also reminds Melanie to care for her own needs as well as those of her children. Melanie is a smart woman and an engaging protagonist. Her reaction to Daniel’s condition is both intellectual and emotional. She studies, she does research, she sobs until blood vessels break in her face. Her narration is frank and unapologetic, infused with a well-deserved crankiness that occasionally erupts in surprising flashes of humor.

A skillfully crafted and bracingly unsentimental look at one mother’s love—sometimes tender, sometimes frantic, always fierce—in the face of adversity.

Pub Date: April 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51751-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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