A coming-of-age and kidnapping story that is certain of its characters but confused about its identity.


What Happened to Clara?

Halleson (The Origin of Fear, 2015, etc.) makes picturesque Wisconsin farmland the backdrop of disturbing crimes in this novel.

As Silje Reiersen grows from adolescence to young adulthood in the 1950s, she shares the same concerns as most of the girls in her rural Wisconsin area: her grades, her shifting friendships with female classmates, and her growing interest in boys. Silje chafes at the restrictions in her life, such as the loneliness of existence on her farm and her Norwegian-American family’s taboos against showing emotion. She escapes into books, imagining the day that she can flee for good into the world outside of the farm. Her imagination also causes moments of paralyzing fear, such as when her mind runs wild with terrible possibilities on a night when her parents are late coming home from a trip. But she has reason for her trepidations to be concrete. Children and teens keep disappearing from all over Wisconsin. Unbeknown to their parents, or to the authorities, they are being kidnapped by multiple individuals who take advantage of their victims’ isolation and funnel the captives to larger child-trafficking rings in Chicago. As Silje ages, the abductions start hitting closer and closer to home, until it seems like anyone, even Silje, could be next. Halleson clearly has a strong understanding of the Norwegian-Americans who populate her novel, and their depictions seem extremely authentic. She’s equally skilled at representing the criminal mind, and the passages from the perspective of a kidnapper are chilling. But these talents are at odds with each other, to the point that it seems that two separate novels, a coming-of-age story and a thriller, are happening simultaneously. The work tries to force a connection between the narratives, as when Silje learns how to drive the family tractor a few pages after a kidnapper calls his victim a “prize heifer,” but the two agricultural references only highlight the plotlines’ stark differences. It is unclear if the book’s focus is meant to be Silje’s experiences of growing up in the country or an increasingly implausible abduction yarn that seems custom-made for a “stranger danger” public service announcement. Either would make an absorbing tale, but together they are discordant.

A coming-of-age and kidnapping story that is certain of its characters but confused about its identity.

Pub Date: July 1, 2016


Page Count: 152

Publisher: Gjerda Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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