It lacks the seamless strength of Rash’s terrific Saints at the River (2004), this is nonetheless thoughtful, above-average...



Civil War ghosts hover over a scrappy teenager and his surrogate father in a Southern tale that mixes suspense, coming-of-age and historical elements.

Travis Shelton is a daredevil, a 17-year-old high-school dropout, bitterly at odds with his mean-spirited daddy, a tobacco farmer in the North Carolina mountains. Leonard Shuler, 20 years his senior, is a bootlegger, drug-dealer and former teacher who lost his job, wife and beloved daughter after being the innocent victim of a drug bust. The two meet when Travis steals marijuana plants off the land of Carlton Toomey, a notorious brawler, and sells them to Leonard. Travis pushes his luck; his third time trespassing, Toomey and son Hubert catch him and cut his foot so badly he requires surgery. The incident leads to a final rupture with his daddy, whereupon Travis seeks sanctuary in Leonard’s trailer. This is granted reluctantly, for Leonard’s already sheltering one stray, Dena, a pill-popping loser, but books bring them together. Leonard is an authority on the 1863 Shelton Laurel Massacre, when Confederate troops killed their Union neighbors. He is the descendant of a Confederate doctor forced to participate, while Travis has kin among the victims. The ex-teacher piques the boy’s interest in the affair, and they visit the nearby massacre site twice; meanwhile, Leonard is prepping Travis for his GED. Rash works manfully to mesh the ancient enmities with his protagonists’ problems over 100 years later, but the strain is evident. The novel drifts in the middle, as Travis gets serious with Lori, his first-ever girlfriend, while Leonard gets serious about his own life and stops dealing. Then Lori makes a seemingly minor miscalculation, and Travis unravels again. The Toomeys return, and the story roars back to life, with white-knuckle suspense right up to the end.

It lacks the seamless strength of Rash’s terrific Saints at the River (2004), this is nonetheless thoughtful, above-average entertainment.

Pub Date: April 8, 2006

ISBN: 0-8050-7866-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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