Solid apocalyptic fiction that focuses more on its character relationships than its sci-fi elements.

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DEAD WEIGHT

In this debut YA thriller, the leftovers of an unexplained apocalypse struggle to survive and find meaning in the wreckage.

After a drunken camping trip with his friends, teenage Zephyr Rockwell awakes to find that everyone he knows—indeed, the entire population of his hometown—has vanished into thin air aside from piles of clothes littering Firefly Valley. He soon excludes mundane reasons for the disappearances, such as a mass exodus or a horrible misunderstanding, but the implications of the seemingly supernatural event are still hard for him to grasp. The lights are still on and food is still easy to find, but Zeph’s plans to scavenge local businesses are soon interrupted when he encounters another survivor, Ross Williams, while breaking into a gun shop. They join forces to explore the town’s new landscape, which is scarred by the ruins of cars and trucks that were speeding down Firefly Valley’s streets at the time of their drivers’ disappearances. Zeph’s initial enthusiasm for a new ally soon begins to dwindle when he notices clues that Ross’ benevolent, cheery manners hide a darker, less stable interior. Soon, the pair’s temporary alliance is broken and Zephyr flees Firefly Valley with another survivor he’s found, a young girl named Jordan. They make other scattered friends along the way as they try to make a new home in a newly abandoned America. The great vanishing, while an ever present mystery, isn’t really Zephyr’s main concern as the story goes on, which can make it difficult for readers to see where it’s all leading. However, this also means that Casamassina’s novel avoids getting bogged down by a standard, predictable plot arc. It’s also nice to see such a cynical protagonist in a YA novel rather than one that’s overwhelmed with shock after a calamity; Zephyr often gives sharp warnings that are regularly ignored by adult travelers, often with disastrous consequences. The resulting tone allows the book to delve into darker territory than many other YA tales.

Solid apocalyptic fiction that focuses more on its character relationships than its sci-fi elements.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9984924-1-4

Page Count: 350

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2017

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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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