A charming, if uneven, coming-of-age tale.

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THE FREEZE

A 12-year-old girl experiences a season of change and hope during the winter of 1962 in this middle-grade novel.

Kate Dunn, the Irish-American daughter of a police officer, lives in a comfortable apartment in Manhattan’s Washington Heights with her parents, older brother Rory, and younger brother Danny and attends the local Catholic school. Her family expects that she will eventually become a nurse or a flight attendant, but the highly intelligent Kate refuses to accept limitations on her ambitions. She regularly wins awards at her school for academic excellence, and she received a full scholarship to the Sacred Heart of Mary Academy. When she’s not spending time with her best friend, Mary Garvey, she pores over a well-worn copy of Black’s Law Dictionary. As the Christmas season approaches, she looks forward to preparing for high school; however, the winter of 1962 ends up being anything but typical for Kate. The region endures unusually frigid weather, dubbed “The Freeze” by local residents. As she waits for the snow predicted by her eccentric neighbor Miss H. Wellington Grimes, her parents cope with problems of their own: Her father faces pressures in his new assignment in the narcotics squad while also dealing with guilt over his actions during World War II, and her mother is secretly saving money. As Christmas approaches, Kate learns a secret that threatens to alter her plans for the future. DeBoer’s debut is a sensitively crafted portrait of a young girl growing up at a pivotal time for women in America. Kate is a dynamic protagonist who has big plans for her future and refuses to let anyone tell her what she can achieve, and the tension between her ambitions and society’s expectations informs her relationships with her father, who tells her that “Girls become nurses,” and Mary, who plans to forgo college in favor of secretarial school. The Washington Heights setting is a significant part of the narrative, and the author brings it to life with vivid descriptions of the community and nuanced supporting characters. Most of the action takes place in Kate’s apartment building or in the streets of the surrounding neighborhood. The reader’s guide to life in the building is Flann McFarland, its superintendent, who regularly regales the children with fantastic stories of a kingdom in Ireland called “Shiloh.” Flann’s own tale of heartbreak is a poignant one. Another memorable resident is the aforementioned Miss Grimes, a woman who spent a colorful childhood in a traveling circus. That said, the novel would have benefited from sharper editing. At times, the prose is lyrical, particularly during a speech from Miss Grimes, in which she tells the protagonist, “Your life will at times, feel very much like a circus, Kate. The acts will come and go.” However, there are occasional misspellings of notable real-life people and places.

A charming, if uneven, coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-9737-7028-2

Page Count: 202

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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