Despite some heavy-handed prose, this novel inspires with its chronicle of perseverance and courage.

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ONCE BENEATH THE STARS

Lentin’s debut novel follows the tumultuous journey of a football player imprisoned in his own body.

In one terrible moment in 1973, Mike Murphy’s life changes forever. The star quarterback of his high-school football team and destined for a Notre Dame scholarship, Mike is injured in a freak football accident and left paralyzed from the neck down. What follows is an insightful look at tragedy and its aftermath, and the meaning of life and death. Although Mike becomes an inspirational leader in his Pennsylvania town, he struggles with his absolute dependency on his mother and brothers, who care for him and keep him alive. Jumping around in time, the story spans the next 20 years, as Mike uses his athletic mindset to persevere through pain and despair, falls in love with a former high school cheerleader, Jenna, and experiences the limitations of their intimacy. Ultimately, the novel ends where it begins: in a hotel room with Dr. Jack Kevorkian, whom Mike has enlisted to help him die. The book, however, shies away from the controversy of assisted suicide and focuses instead on the difficult journey that leads to Mike’s decision. Along the way, Lentin provides an honest and often humorous account of daily challenges and triumphs. The scenes between Mike and his two brothers, who keep him connected to the outside world, are rendered with realism and affection and resonate with the men’s quiet strength. But Mike’s relationship with his estranged father is never fully explained, and this elusive thread proves distracting, especially as the book nears its climax. At times, the prose strains under the weight of too much sentimentality. Lentin’s novel is most engaging when grounded in the everyday struggles of Mike’s life: being fed by his mother, figuring out how to take his girlfriend on a “real” date, listening to the classic rock ‘n’ roll that provides an escape and fuels his desire for freedom. Lentin’s novel is a celebration of imagination, courage and choice.

Despite some heavy-handed prose, this novel inspires with its chronicle of perseverance and courage.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-0983214809

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Turn the Page

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2012

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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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