A coming-of-age story with the potential to be something even more.

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HOTEL GIRLS

A naïve country girl learns the ways of the world in O’Connor’s debut work of fiction.

When, in 1976, her family is killed in a violent ambush, 16-year-old Sandy is left penniless and orphaned in Rhodesia. She relocates to Durban, South Africa, to live with her grandmother in the bustling, urban environment. Thus begins Sandy’s transition from naif to sophisticated young woman. Though she dreams of attending school to become an art teacher, Sandy finds employment at a candy shop to generate income. Her co-worker Mary offers a different kind of education, teaching Sandy the art of attracting a man. Thanks to her newfound skills and confidence, Sandy secures a job as a receptionist at the Leopard Lair Hotel. In between working the front desk, dealing with customer kerfuffles, and studying her South African matric, Sandy is introduced to the world of sex and the pleasures and pitfalls of having affairs. Though Sandy encounters a few bad eggs, the good doctor Fletcher comes to her aid from time to time. Too bad he’s married and off-limits…or is he? Sandy’s transition from child to adult, her sexual awakening, and her journey to find her place in life are the primary focuses of O’Connor’s narrative. The young woman shows some promising spunk—e.g., her inadvertent attendance at a swingers party and her refusal to have sex with an irritating hotel guest—though at times she is frustratingly shallow and one-dimensional. O’Connor’s story is set during a time of extreme political and racial turmoil, yet there’s little reflection on current events. Mary tells Sandy to imagine being married to a rich man—“You’d be well looked after”—and much of the narrative revolves around this goal. Anecdotes of outrageous hotel guests provide some of the more amusing aspects of the novel, which is at its best when glimpsing South African political dynamics, as when Granny refuses to let Sandy date a man who is an Afrikaner.

A coming-of-age story with the potential to be something even more.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4993-1308-6

Page Count: 186

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2015

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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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