Moving sideways with its weight of secrets, this novel never strikes a false note.



A coming-of-age story about a young girl’s growing awareness—of sexuality, loss, and family truths.

Jaffe’s debut novel begins quietly, like a swimmer’s sleek dive into a pool. Pools and swimming feature prominently in this haunting story about a girl struggling in a family blighted by the departure, years earlier, of her older brother, who was a star competitive swimmer. Fifteen-year-old Julie lives with her parents, who are quiet and hands-off to the point of near-absence. When an older student, Alexis, suggests Julie join the swim team along with her best friend, Erika, Julie’s response is ambivalent—she hasn’t swum for a long time and warily defines swimming as her brother’s world. Competitive swimming is clearly both Julie’s fascination and some kind of nemesis, but she’s encouraged by Alexis’ interest, which is distractingly intense. A flirtatious and powerful attraction grows between the two girls, one Julie is quietly committed to acknowledging but Alexis, with a boyfriend and “popular girl” visibility, is less so. As Julie struggles to deal with her relationship with Alexis, to compete as a swimmer, to conduct herself appropriately at parties, and to be a good friend to the increasingly boy-crazy Erika, we relive the awkward agonies of adolescence, so well-sketched by Jaffe. With writerly acuteness, Jaffe focuses close attention on materials—the clutch of a too-tight swimsuit, the comfort of a warm sweatshirt—maybe because adolescence is so much about trying to fit inside external layers or because clothes can have outsize importance before real self-definition takes place. But Julie moves slowly and steadily toward that, finding the honest people she needs and eventually even finding her way to the truth about her brother.

Moving sideways with its weight of secrets, this novel never strikes a false note.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-941040-13-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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