A tale of a woman’s childhood and adulthood employs both sweet clichés and genuine reflections on the passage of time.



A woman navigates change and growth while reckoning with memories of her youth in this debut novel.

Jill at first seems to have an idyllic childhood. Her adoring, artistic mother, Rebecca, is raising her in the Garden, a sprawling homestead full of creative horticultural designs. But Jill has just turned 10 and increasingly asks questions about the frequent absence of her father, Jay, a renowned photographer often away on assignment for months at a time. The Garden remains a paradise, but Jill’s struggle to decode her complicated family riddles is further challenged when her mother gives birth to a baby and tragedy strikes shortly after. Jill’s best friend, Susie, supports her throughout but must struggle with her own mother’s alcoholism. In interspersed chapters told parallel to this childhood tale, a grown Jill is trying to get her garden-ware business off the ground when a chance encounter with the handsome and spontaneous Charlie changes her life forever. The two feel an instant, deep connection, but their romance is complicated by personality differences and Jill’s memories of her past. As Jill grows older, some happy “endings” occur—a marriage, a successful business—but time continues to bring new challenges and realizations. Some elements of Jill’s life are so sentimental and picturesque that they border on the unrealistic or clichéd, yet Leet’s best passages utilize this almost saccharine quality by contrasting it with real change and pain. The book’s many episodes feel sometimes leisurely or overly wandering and random, and its characters likewise can read both as two-dimensional types sharing platitudes and as real individuals meditating on the nature of happiness. Charlie and Jill’s early courtship, for example, feels like a sketch of a romance lacking real characterization (Jill ultimately loses her virginity to Charlie, but the reason she stops waiting is never fully explained). Yet the give-and-take of their adult marriage resonates far more effectively, mirroring the well-written, alternatingly cheery and sad dynamics among Jill, Rebecca, and Jay.

A tale of a woman’s childhood and adulthood employs both sweet clichés and genuine reflections on the passage of time.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943826-33-9

Page Count: 425

Publisher: Antrim House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2018

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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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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.


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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