Readers who like quaint Lake Wobegon–esque narratives will enjoy rooting for the residents of Alpine Valley as they...

THE SECRET OF ALPINE VALLEY

Determined to save their small mill town from disaster, the resolute residents of Alpine Valley set a clever ruse into motion in veteran television writer Crehan’s debut novel.

Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted a better setting than Alpine Valley, population 581, elevation 8,467 feet. Superficially, everything looks idyllic in this quaint Pacific Northwest mill town. Scratch the veneer, however, and a more somber situation is revealed: The closure of the local mill has led to an erosion of the tax base, and the town’s debts are running dangerously high. Nobody understands the severity of the situation better than local realtor and mother of two Annie LaPeer, who’s also the town’s mayor. Forced to figure out a way out of the morass, she and the town’s residents decide to fall back on legend. If the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot can still attract enthusiastic gawkers, they reason, why not resuscitate the story of the Alpine Valley Ape? Sure, nobody in recent memory has seen the monster, but everybody knows somebody who swears he has. Soon people in town create a masterful video, apparently showing the primate in action. It goes viral, and the town gets just what it wants: an avalanche of tourists and their dollars. Unfortunately, the situation also brings fresh complications, which the denizens of Alpine Valley must now solve. Crehan ably uses his clear, well-defined characters to present various moral arguments in this promising young-adult mystery. Although the townsfolk occasionally veer into caricature, they add plenty of color to the proceedings. Most of the story is told in the first person by Annie’s daughter, Melissa LaPeer, and she often threatens to derail the plotline with constant attention-getting devices: “This is a particularly important chapter because particularly important things happen in it, and I’m a little fearful that I won’t be able to get these things across to you as well as I really must.” Whimsical at first, these asides become annoying after a while, and a less self-indulgent voice might have better served the novel’s purpose. The plot also slows down halfway through before finally roaring back into action.

Readers who like quaint Lake Wobegon–esque narratives will enjoy rooting for the residents of Alpine Valley as they valiantly struggle to hang on to a fast-fading way of life.

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615981079

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Boda Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2014

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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

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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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