A touching tale with a mature, likable role model for teens who have suffered abuse.

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SEVENTEEN AND TRYING TO SURVIVE

Based on the author’s life, this debut novel tells a harrowing story of abuse and neglect.

Seventeen-year-old Lily King dreams of escaping her small Canadian town and horrible parents, Michael King and Victoria Grace. Michael once locked a barking puppy in a car trunk and blackened Lily’s eye when she questioned why. And Victoria—who drinks and pops pills all day—constantly berates Lily. Fighting their way through a bitter divorce, Lily’s parents neglect her when they’re not yelling at her. After Michael tricks Victoria into signing away her rights to their house, she and Lily move to a poor neighborhood. Michael refuses to give Victoria money for child support (he eventually flees to avoid paying), and Lily often goes hungry. Victoria attempts suicide and is institutionalized, so Lily must move back in with her begrudging father, who forces her to attend a religious school. Thankfully, there is one ray of hope—a kind counselor wants to help the teen win scholarships for nursing school. Raising the money will be a long shot, but getting into the prestigious program will be even harder. Lily is a smart, determined survivor, but has she taken on more than she can handle? Told from Lily’s first-person perspective—with her journal entries sprinkled throughout the narrative—Gregory’s tale features fluid, conversational prose. Highly precocious, Lily’s voice sometimes sounds too much like that of an adult, as when she examines the viewpoints of divorced children: “We aren’t privy to all the history that our parents have had together, and so we only see it as it unfolds in real time.” But an uneven voice doesn’t spoil the overall story, which is poignant and memorable. Lily’s language can also be poetic, as when she speaks of her deep sadness in spring: “The trees were starting to come alive, and I still felt shriveled up like the dead winter leaves.” One inspirational theme in Lily’s saga is the importance of helping others. Turning her abuse inward, Lily begins to think she is worthless. But her counselor—who was also abused—comes to her aid, teaching the student to believe in herself.

A touching tale with a mature, likable role model for teens who have suffered abuse.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77370-414-2

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Tellwell

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 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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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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