An appealing Afrocentric time-travel tale, hampered by a sluggish pace.

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TWO WOMEN TWO ROADS ONE FUTURE

BOOK ONE OF THE ORISHA SERIES

A California college student uses ancient African magic to travel through time in this fantasy debut.

Chloe Marshall—administrative assistant to a senator and a freshman at Cal State in Los Angeles—has always experienced preternatural occurrences. Sometimes the song on the radio will reflect the exact thought she’s having. Sometimes this happens three times in a row. She’s never told her conservative Christian mother about this of course. Her mother just wants Chloe to get a degree so she can get a good-paying job. She gives Chloe grief just for taking an African- American studies class. Something in the class sends Chloe’s mysterious powers into overdrive. When researching a project on Adam Clayton Powell Jr., she is momentarily swept back into the pastor’s Harlem. Later, in a Candomblé ritual with one of her classmates, she is told by a spirit, “Look for Oya, Exu and Ayodele.” Meanwhile, across the gulf of time, Ayodele of Igbogila is captured by enemy Dahomey tribesmen and sold into slavery to their white allies. Both Chloe and Ayodele will have to find faith in the religion of the Orisha—the gods of Africa—in order to overcome the troubles in their own eras and to reunite in what proves to be a family reunion across time. Johnson writes in a punchy, conversational prose that hews close to the voices of her characters: “None of her advisors had a clue about what was going on inside her. Everyone wanted to play it safe. Whatever happened to the ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ mentality?” The use of shifting perspectives, multiple timelines, and African-American spiritualism lends the book a distinctive charm, though the plot takes a while to truly get moving. Johnson follows secondary characters down narrative cul-de-sacs that distract from the larger story, and readers must reach 100 pages before anything truly fantastic happens. Though some of the dialogue borders on the didactic, readers looking for a mix of western African mysticism and speculative fiction should enjoy this work, the first installment of a series.

An appealing Afrocentric time-travel tale, hampered by a sluggish pace.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-364-64267-9

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Blurb

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2017

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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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