Well-written and stocked with many strong characterizations, but fuzzy in plotting and theme.

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THE ENCHANTED LIFE OF ADAM HOPE

A husband literally made in the image of others teaches Evelyn Roe about enduring love and the equally enduring human distrust of difference in Riley’s debut.

On a rainy morning in early 1947, 19-year-old Evelyn stumbles across a mud-encrusted body on her family’s farm. She assumes this oddly misshapen, seemingly scorched being is a wounded veteran—until “he” begins morphing into a female who looks spookily like Evelyn. She’s not afraid of this gentle alien—indeed, the two begin a passionate sexual relationship rooted in the visitor’s extraordinarily empathetic touch and voice—but terrified of what would happen if its true nature were discovered in close-minded North Carolina. Evelyn introduces everyone to a long-lost cousin named Addie, and life continues tranquilly until Addie senses Evelyn’s longing for a child. She disappears one night with a roving drunk and returns two weeks later looking just like the man. Now Evelyn can marry her soul mate, renamed Adam Hope, and enjoy blissful domesticity on the farm. They have a near-escape from detection when twins Jennie and Lillian are delivered in the hospital and doctors, baffled by their amorphous appearance, want to run tests, but Evelyn and Adam whisk them home to speedily acquire their mother’s entirely human appearance, just as their home-born sisters did. The danger is greater when Adam lands in the hospital, and the family decides to move to Florida. The narrative speeds up at this point as the girls enter adolescence and Evelyn enters middle age, but Adam’s ever-young appearance again threatens them with discovery. His exit is as mysterious as his entrance, and this is the book's underlying problem. If Addie/Adam had any notion where s/he came from, or if Evelyn’s love was ever shaken by any real conflicts, this sweet but rather anodyne tale would gain some needed bite. As is, despite a few asides on racism, it’s basically a romance with E.T. trimmings.

Well-written and stocked with many strong characterizations, but fuzzy in plotting and theme.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-209944-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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