May prompt catch-up reading among the uninitiated.

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GOD AIN’T THROUGH YET

Continuing rags-to-riches saga of Annette Goode Davis, her best friend Rhoda and the exasperating men, parents and children in their lives.

In this fifth of Monroe’s God series (God Ain’t Blind, 2009, etc.), Annette, 47, appears to have finally surmounted her destitute and traumatized childhood. She’s a successful collection agent, happily married to childhood sweetheart Pee Wee, the most prosperous black barber in Richland, Ohio. Their 11-year-old daughter Charlotte is well behaved and popular, even if she prefers pizza to collard greens. Annette is still surrounded by the wacky supporting cast Monroe introduced in the first book (God Don’t Like Ugly, 2000). Her mother, the now-elderly Muh’Dear, has reunited with Annette’s father, whose desertion of the family (in Ugly) for a white woman led to his family’s impoverishment and subsequent troubles. Scary Mary, the semi-retired madam who sheltered and occasionally employed Annette and Muh’Dear during their lean times, is still Richland’s go-to rumor-monger. But Annette ignores Mary’s hints that stalwart Pee Wee is planning to abscond with his new light-skinned manicurist, Little Leg Lizzie (so named because of her withered leg, the result of polio). Irony of ironies, Annette herself had suggested hiring Lizzie, to give Pee Wee an edge over a rival upstart barbershop, and to help Lizzie overcome her shyness. At Annette’s suggestion, Lizzie has a makeover, and the newly glam nail stylist soon has the barbershop clientele—and proprietor—wrapped around her cuticle trimmer. When Pee Wee leaves, Annette retaliates by taking up with former fling Jacob, but he turns out to be an abusive deadbeat. Meanwhile, Rhoda’s spoiled diva daughter Jade has returned from yet another out-of-state husband hunt with latest conquest Vernie, whom she doesn’t hesitate to batter when he’s too slow to obey her commands. Much back story from previous installments unduly burdens this narrative, despite the pleasure of watching Annette and Rhoda soldier on, wisecracks at the ready.

May prompt catch-up reading among the uninitiated.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7582-3859-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dafina/Kensington

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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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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