Alam captures something truthful and essential about the push-pull of friendship—the desire for closeness as well as the...

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RICH AND PRETTY

This debut novel about two close childhood pals trying to maintain a friendship as their adult paths gradually diverge has an amiable familiarity.

Lauren and Sarah have been BFFs since sixth grade, when Lauren, an 11-year-old from a middle-class New Jersey family, snagged a scholarship to a fancy private school in Manhattan and was immediately befriended by popular Sarah, her ambassador to the world of the wealthy. Sarah is rich. Lauren is pretty. Sarah volunteers for worthy projects and works part time in a charity thrift store, goes to the gym, lunches with friends, has Sunday night dinner with her conservative political adviser father and her mother, a retired singer of moderate renown, in their large, eclectically elegant home. Lauren lives in a tiny yet stylish Brooklyn apartment and ekes out a modest living in book publishing, slowly climbing the editorial ladder and, for a while anyway, bedding the temp. Sarah lives in a Manhattan two-bedroom with a foyer, a separate kitchen and ample closet space (ah, fiction) and is busily planning her wedding to her doctor fiance—trying on dresses, sampling slices of cake. Lauren, her maid of honor, is uninterested in committing to a romantic relationship and not above a casual tryst with, say, a waiter at a resort hotel during Sarah’s pre-wedding girlfriend getaway. These women still understand each other in a way no one else may, but they’ve drifted apart since the days of middle school sleepovers, high school and college parties, and a stint as post-college roomies. “Things change, in life—of course they do,” Alam writes, of Sarah’s perspective. “People grow up, become interested in new things, new people. Our way of being in the world is probably a lot less fixed than most people think. But Lauren is a part of her world, and she’s a part of Lauren’s.” Lauren, though, wonders if her friendship with Sarah has survived solely by “force of habit.” Although Alam seems to have no deep new insight to share and his story is thin on plot, his characters are real and rounded enough to escape being entirely cliché, and he displays a robust understanding of and affection for the nuances of female friendships as they evolve over time.

Alam captures something truthful and essential about the push-pull of friendship—the desire for closeness as well as the space to define ourselves—and admirably resists the urge to look down on his characters.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-242993-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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