A strong heroine and intriguing concept—but closer to one-third of an adventure than a whole one.



A middle school girl uses Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks to build a time machine in this debut middle-grade novel.

Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Morton, called Charley, loves science, math, and language. She wants to do it all, like her hero Leonardo, “the ultimate Renaissance man.” She goes to Da Vinci Middle School (coincidentally enough) in Takoma Park, Maryland, with her friend Billy Vincenzo, a gearhead who is the school’s “geekiest eighth-grader,” and Beth, a former best friend gone boy-crazy. Visiting an exhibition at the Smithsonian on Leonardo’s Codex, Charley gets a great idea: re-create one of the artist’s sketched inventions for a science fair project. She’s convinced the device is a time machine, and she wants not just to construct it, but to travel back in time, meet Leonardo, interview him, and learn his secrets as well. A series of events and discoveries, including vivid dreams, a golden angle compass, a government computer, Charley’s father’s garage workshop, a captivating young man named Kairos, and a mathematical formula called the Qualia Rosetta—together with “an unforeseen kiss and an awkward misstep”—attempts to transport Charley back in time. Unfortunately, the tale ends rather abruptly. (Bonus chapters from Book 2 are appended.) Payes has an engaging heroine in Charley. She’s confident, hardworking, and curious; though she worries about homework, friends, and boys, she also is consumed with finding answers to serious questions like who we are and why we’re here. Charley’s friends are well-drawn and believable too. Though it goes unexplored, it’s interesting that their world is fairly privileged. Charley’s father, for example, does something secret and science-y in government, and her mother is a concert violinist. Leonardo is, of course, worthy of Charley’s enthusiasm, and there’s enough real science to make the story’s time travel seem more than just a magical transition. But, after all the buildup, it’s a huge disappointment that Charley’s exploits are over so soon, and a lot to ask of readers that they stay tuned indefinitely for the conclusion.

A strong heroine and intriguing concept—but closer to one-third of an adventure than a whole one.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-937650-83-4

Page Count: 138

Publisher: Small Batch Books

Review Posted Online: June 27, 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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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.


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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