Flawed, but a solid start for a new novelist.

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AMERICAN YOUTH

An accidental shooting transforms a New England town and the lives of three boys.

Change comes fast for 14-year-old Teddy LeClare when his .22 rifle discharges in his parents’ living room. A new friend who lives in one of the fancy developments in town urged Teddy to load the gun, something he’s always known not to do. Before the cops arrive, his mother makes him swear that he will lie about what happened to anyone who asks: the police, nosy kids, even his father. Teddy finds himself a pariah among his freshman class of 600 students, for although he’s too young to have his name listed as a suspect in the local paper, their New Hampshire town is small enough that word travels fast. Teddy doesn’t care. This limbo he’s living in until the fingerprint and gunshot residue tests come back (a friendly patrolman tells him it’s not like on TV—the results could take a couple months) suits him just fine. The only thing he can feel is the super-heated top of his Bic lighter pressed tight against his skin. Unknown to Teddy, though, he has become a local hero to a self-styled America First group of teenagers, who rage against gun control and other “Federalist” restrictions. He doesn’t know what to make of them or their anti-drugs, anti-sex-before-marriage, anti-land-development credos that also seem to include opportunistic shoplifting and acts of vandalism against the rich and mighty. When they turn their pent-up aggression on the other boy under suspicion for the shooting, Teddy finds the complications of his young life suddenly compounded. Debut novelist LaMarche writes compellingly about small-town mores, and the pacing is brisk as Teddy’s life spins out of control. But the author refers to Teddy throughout as “the boy,” a narrative conceit that keeps not only the character Teddy, but also the reader, at a distance.

Flawed, but a solid start for a new novelist.

Pub Date: April 17, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-6605-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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