A highly entertaining and thoughtful tale.

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THE ART OF BEING REMMY

In Zisk’s (The Best Single Mom in the World, 2001) middle-grade novel, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl in 1965 defies sexist stereotypes—and her father—to take art lessons.

Four years ago, back in third grade, Rosella Maria Rinaldi’s art teacher dubbed her “a regular little Rembrandt,” and kids have called her “Remmy” ever since. The teacher recommended that Remmy keep “the spark of an artist” alive, so the tween resolves that her upcoming year in seventh grade will be “The Year of My Spark.” Dampening her fire, though, is her father, who insists that “No daughter of mine will ever become an artist,” with an accompanying “Great Depression Speech.” In addition, Remmy finds that her History of Art book doesn’t have a single female artist in it. Nevertheless, she finds work to pay for secret art lessons. In the months leading up to an art contest that Remmy hopes to win, her personal relationships have ups and downs. Her best friend, Debbie, a fellow Beatlemaniac, starts hanging out with another girl in the French club, often leaving Remmy (who doesn’t speak French) out of their conversations; later, Remmy draws a portrait of Debbie that causes trouble. Bill Appleton, a former childhood friend, has sexist notions (“You know, all great artists are men”), but he also suffers because of gendered expectations, as he’d rather make art than play sports. This revelation brings him and Remmy closer together. She also learns more about her father’s past and what it was that’s made him so dead-set against art as a career. Remmy’s artistic efforts bring mixed results, but she sticks to her resolution. The book includes an author’s note that features a handful of her personal photos from the 1960s (depicting a memorable event that mirrors an episode in the book), a timeline of the women’s movement from the 1960s to the ’80s, and an appendix that lists 23 artists mentioned in the text, featuring short biographies and four photos. Zisk illustrates the story with Remmy’s lively, expressive line drawings, which show that Remmy does have some skill; at the same time, they are believably the work of a talented 12-year-old. Remmy expresses delight in color and pays attention to visuals throughout the narrative, which helps to establish her as a budding artist: “I notice everything—diamonds of dew on leaves, the changing color of twilight clouds, yellow snow in the shape of Florida.” Remmy’s painting classes, too, provide readers with an authentic sense of what the education of a young painter is like: “composition, proportion, mixing colors (or tones of gray, in my case), brush strokes, shadows, highlights.” Also authentic, and perhaps surprising to many young readers today, is the depiction of the struggle of women artists to gain recognition. H.W. Janson’s History of Art is a real book, and Zisk correctly notes that it didn’t include any women until the 1987 edition. Remmy’s amusing voice, decency, and ambition make her an appealing character, as well.

A highly entertaining and thoughtful tale.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73248-770-3

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Cabin Studio Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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