Bites off more than it can possibly chew, then—poof—makes it all go away in the last 20 pages.

THE YEAR OF NEEDY GIRLS

When a 10-year-old boy is murdered and a high school teacher is accused of molesting a student, a small Massachusetts town is rocked to its ignorant core.

In the prologue of Smith’s debut novel, a Little Leaguer named Leo Rivera is kidnapped by his next-door neighbor, an unprepossessing auto mechanic named Mickey Gilberto. Not long after, Leo’s corpse is found at the bottom of the river in a plastic container. Meanwhile, lesbian Deirdre Murphy, a dedicated and popular French teacher at a private girls’ school, has been canned because an uptight mom witnessed her daughter planting an unsolicited kiss on the teacher’s lips. These two events tangle in the public imagination to produce a citywide outbreak of homophobia and a weirdly nonsuspenseful witch hunt, since the reader already knows who did and didn’t do what to whom. On the same day Deirdre loses her job, her librarian partner, SJ, attempts to break off their relationship, though bad timing prevents the severing of the limp connection. SJ has also recently received a problematic smooch—hers from the murderous pedophile Mickey Gilberto, whom she’s been tutoring in reading at the library. Even after the unasked-for kiss, she can’t help thinking he’s a nice guy. Alienated as they are, Deirdre and SJ can give each other no support as they endure their twin trials; each mentally muddles through her own back story and future prospects as she becomes the focus of police and public suspicion. The most promising part of this book is the depiction of Deirdre’s teaching, but it's buried under an avalanche of half-baked elements: police work on the two cases, unconvincing letters to the local paper, two-dimensional supporting characters, and unwarranted allusions to The Scarlet Letter. “How did Hester Prynne do it? she wondered. How did she face the town with her quiet pride and go on living her life, raising Pearl, not minding what anyone said or did? Deirdre didn’t think she had the strength in her.”

Bites off more than it can possibly chew, then—poof—makes it all go away in the last 20 pages.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61775-487-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Kaylie Jones/Akashic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 27

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more