Searing action and drama, but truly a story of friends whose impacts on one another are profound and permanent.


The Ballad of David and Israel

In Palmer’s urban drama debut, the close friendship between two California teens forever intertwines their lives and culminates in violence.

David Hill was one of the bullies who tormented nerd Israel Baylock, but Israel earns David’s respect when he fights back. The two become friends in high school, and David is soon a regular in the Baylock household—which is perfect for David, since he’s enamored with Israel’s beautiful older sister, Ellena. David’s gang affiliation fractures his eventual relationship with Ellena, but their tenacious love and son, Michael, keep them in close ties. Israel, meanwhile, joins the Marines and disappears in Europe, only to resurface in the U.S. years later. It seems he’s come back just in time: Ellena’s LAPD officer husband, Sean, has revealed too much of his illicit behavior, and a batch of dirty cops hopes to silence Ellena and anyone she loves. David and the now physically adept Israel must protect their family at all costs. Though it boasts impressive action in its final act, Palmer’s story is less an action novel than a potent drama with violent sequences. Palmer deftly concentrates on David’s difficult life and relationship with Ellena. He’s not a likable protagonist; his selling crack in college while on an athletic scholarship, for one, puts later troubles squarely on his shoulders. But he’s softened by his genuine love for Michael, while his struggles with Ellena, who abandons him when he’s arrested, are believably frayed. Israel, David’s counterpart, is shrouded in mystery; little is known of his time in Amsterdam, and he returns to America to escape potential fallback for lethal vengeance against a murderer. The book is, at times, vicious, especially Israel’s bone-crunching brutality against the cops threatening his family. There’s likewise an abundance of racial epithets, mainly the N-word, repeated frequently and used casually, sans animosity, among predominantly black characters. The lengthy confrontation near the end is interrupted by an extensive flashback that works surprisingly well, both as a breather and further examination of how each friend, for better or worse, has been shaped by the other. The ending, too, is a stunner sure to reverberate with readers.

Searing action and drama, but truly a story of friends whose impacts on one another are profound and permanent.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1500346560

Page Count: 320

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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