Honest and absurd, funny and tragic, wild and lovely, this novel describes modern coming-of-age with poetic precision.

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AN INNOCENT FASHION

Hernández portrays the scope of dreams, love, and the fashion industry in this literary debut.

Even before he spies escape in the pages of top fashion magazine Régine, Elián San Jamar knows, intrinsically and at a young age, that he does not belong with his working-class parents in ugly Corpus Christi, Texas. Against familial and geographical odds, he adamantly forges his own path through childhood, ascending to new heights when he earns a full scholarship to Yale, changes his name to Ethan St. James, and bonds with Madeline Dupre, a blue-blooded doll with privilege to share. The pair are soon befriended by Dorian Belgraves, the son of a famous model, forming a complex trio. His friends' enthusiasm encourages Ethan to follow his calling, seeking out and cultivating beauty—and when he earns an internship at Régine after graduation, it seems that all his dreams are coming true. But of course anyone who's read a fashion-industry roman à clef knows how twisted this road will inevitably become. Work at Régine is grueling and soulless, not remotely what Ethan expected when he styled himself in its image as a young adult. As an industry, fashion turns out to be quite fascist (hysterically so, at times), and it feeds ravenously on Ethan's innocence. Madeline and Dorian are hardly helpful in this regard. Exiting the enchanted, equalizing field of Yale, they can continue to romp where their hearts desire while Ethan has to pay rent. And how to make a living in a disconnected, capitalist world is something for which neither his passion nor his Ivy League education has prepared him. Writing in a fervently literary style that flirts openly with the traditions of Salinger, Plath, and Fitzgerald, Hernández is a diamond-sharp satirist and a bracingly fresh chronicler of the heartbreak of trying to grow up.

Honest and absurd, funny and tragic, wild and lovely, this novel describes modern coming-of-age with poetic precision.

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-242954-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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