A dark, effective exploration of childhood fears.

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THE FALL OF DREAMS

A debut novel sees a boy fall into a fairy tale within a nightmare.

Ten-year-old Peter Engel is afraid of his dreams. They feel too real. Like the dream he has when he nods off during a math test and finds himself tied to a table, captive of a…witch? (“There, a long spindly figure searched near the hut. She was draped in a long glossy garment of the darkest blue and her arms dangled at her sides like broken branches.”) Peter’s fear makes him an insomniac, always tired, unable to sleep at night or even articulate his distress. Then, on the Friday before Halloween, he meets sixth-grader Sarah. She tells him how to escape from nightmares: All he has to do is fall and hit the ground. But that night, Peter is abducted by flying monkeys who drop him into a forest and into a dream. Running away, he meets the woodcarver Mr. Thorne and his tiny servant, Master Key. Peter takes shelter in their treehouse. He chops wood for Mr. Thorne and, in the forest one day, rescues a young girl from a witch. The girl’s name is Hannah. She seems familiar, but Peter is now forgetting the details of his real life. He is lost, and the witches are closing in. Will he ever find his way home? LaSalle captures the dark atmosphere of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, mixing short, vivid descriptions with a simple narrative style. Peter’s fears and forlornness come across as very real, yet readers are kept at a safe distance by the book’s dreamlike quality. This manifests particularly through the personages of Mr. Thorne and Master Key, who converse at a slight remove from reality and wouldn’t be out of place in a Lewis Carroll tale. Peter is a brave, if rather fatalistic, protagonist, remaining resolute even though out of his depth. The novel doesn’t provide easy answers—there is little guidance and no underlying moral—but this is apt. As with many of the Grimms’ stories, young readers may thrill at the shadows and, where necessary, take comfort merely in not being alone.

A dark, effective exploration of childhood fears.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-04007-2

Page Count: 187

Publisher: Winterset Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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