Simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming.

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GIRLS ON FIRE

Girls behaving very, very badly.

Hannah Dexter has been lonely for so long that she doesn’t even notice anymore. She’s not an outcast; she’s a nonentity. An episode of public humiliation brings her to the attention of Lacey Champlain. Initially bound together in their hatred of popular girl supreme Nikki Drummond, Hannah and Lacey become inseparable, with Lacey the dominant member of this dyad. She transforms Hannah into Dex, replacing her Keds and Kmart T-shirts with Doc Martens and flannel. Under Lacey’s tutelage, Dex becomes the kind of girl who swipes drinks from her parents’ liquor cabinet and sneaks into clubs. Dex knows that Lacey has a dark side, but she doesn’t know the half of it, and it’s not long before this attachment takes a pathological turn. Wasserman has written a number of books for kids (Game of Flames, 2015, etc.), and she clearly sympathizes with that audience. The challenge here is that grown-ups almost never find adolescents as fascinating as they find themselves. Reading this overstuffed and overwrought book is, more often than not, as tiresome as paging through a high school diary. The fact that it’s set in the 1990s doesn’t help. The references to Nirvana and Sun-In and LA Gear sneakers create a sense of nostalgia rather than a sense of immediacy. (It was probably a good call to avoid mention of Heathers, which covered similar territory with wit and brevity rather than melodrama and extended metaphors.) The writing is repetitive—Wasserman delivers the same information over and over again—and overly florid. Indeed, the fact that the whole novel is written at fever pitch defuses the horror toward which the narrative builds. And, after hammering home the smallness of the town Dex and Lacey dream of escaping, Wasserman asks the reader to believe that this humdrum place could produce not one, but two, teen sociopaths—not just mean girls who go too far, but born deceivers and natural manipulators.

Simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-241548-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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