An appealing work that combines YA-style tropes with college-age struggles.

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NOT FAR FROM THE PEACH TREE

A young woman unravels a family secret with her 12-year-old sister’s help in Falk’s debut novel.

Twenty-two-year-old Abigail Hartley is living at home with her parents in New York City, and her deadline to either enroll in college classes or move out is fast approaching. The cerebral young woman is indecisive about her next step: “I’m a yellow blip on a black screen and the ten-year-old controlling me is still learning how to play.” The sudden death of her estranged maternal grandmother spurs a desire to look into her shadowy family history. Abigail’s mom refuses to explain why they won’t be going to the funeral, and the young woman realizes that there may be only way for her to uncover what’s really going on: She’ll have to visit her mother’s Georgia hometown. In order to make the trip without her parents’ knowledge, she needs a plan, and she enlists her little sister Maddy’s assistance. Despite their age difference, they have a close and endearingly humorous relationship—one that that forms the emotional heart of Falk’s story. Take Abigail’s observation after the two log some significant bonding time: “ ‘Whoa. T.M.I., Mom.’ I just used a Maddy-ism. We’ve spent so much time together, I think I’ve absorbed her brain—it was small, and delicious.” The sisters’ search eventually leads Abigail to discover some troubled Southern history. Overall, this is a well-paced story that, despite its familiar structure, feels less like a bildungsroman than it does a feel-good fairy tale for young-adult readers. It’s to the book’s credit that it brings to light a particular facet of the history of racism in Georgia, where the majority of the book is set. It’s also revealing that it took such a journey for Abigail, a white character, to learn about racism’s effects on her own family: “racism is far from gone. It may not always be as obvious now as outlawed love or segregated schools, but it’s there.”

An appealing work that combines YA-style tropes with college-age struggles.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-988276-23-6

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Peasantry Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

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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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