A beautifully written, engrossing family epic that’s a bit slow and tangled with its own literary devices.



A slow, sweeping family tale spanning continents and generations.

Young’s debut novel first centers on Bernard, a sensitive carpenter in 1950s Canada. Though he’s deaf, he hears a melody one night as he slumbers. The haunting song leads him to a long sojourn in the woods, where he stumbles upon decades-old secrets. But he’s not the only one in his family enchanted by a distant, dreamlike tune. The tale jumps back and forth in time and geography, with his family’s story beginning in a French convent in 1859 and ending in present-day Australia. Bernard’s family is carefully traced, and the relationships among its members are revealed in elegant, finely crafted prose. There’s Adrienne, a French nun grappling with her vows; Isabelle, a young orphan who leaves Europe for Canada with a mysterious uncle; and Walk-Tall, a young Iroquois man with a tragic end. There are others, too, and their stories—illicit love affairs, sham marriages, mission trips to Asia—are set against a background of war, religion and, most importantly, music. Everyone is in some way connected to a guitar, either as a virtuoso or a child of one. Every guitar, it seems, is magical—when they’re in need of comfort or guidance, characters constantly swear they’ve heard their guitar play on its own—and the instruments are considered the most prized possessions, worshipped for their sound (“angels and ordinary men wept from the sheer beauty”) and sentiment. That adulation can be a bit much; some characters even sleep with their guitars like blankets, and one character’s playing unrealistically creates peace between angry Nepalese soldiers and traveling missionaries. Beyond the power of music and the nostalgia of familial possessions, the story’s progress often feels like an afterthought to Young’s focus on symbolism. Guitars might be what bind this family, but for the story, they’re more of a hindrance than an adhesive.

A beautifully written, engrossing family epic that’s a bit slow and tangled with its own literary devices.

Pub Date: June 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-1592999378

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Inkwater Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2013

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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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