A dispiriting reminder that youth is wasted on the young.

GROSSE POINTE GIRL

TALES FROM A SUBURBAN ADOLESCENCE

First-novelist McCandless revisits—in loosely connected chapters—the cringe-making years of adolescent missteps and mistakes.

Narrator and Everygirl Emma Harris is about to enter sixth grade the summer her family move up from an apartment to a house in tony Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She’s soon best friends with neighbor Katrina, also a rising sixth grader. Katrina introduces her to the local landmarks—the department store, the ice-cream shop, and the drugstore—and helps her choose school clothes at the mall. The two are inseparable, but nothing lasts, especially in adolescence, and these tales are darker and more elegiac than the bouncy prose suggests. As Emma describes adjusting to middle school, being mortified by a popular boy, getting her first bra (embarrassingly ahead of the other girls) and her first period, her parents separate. Her father moves out; she and her mother have to find an apartment. Her friendship with Katrina, now more difficult to keep up, ruptures when a group of girls make insinuations about Katrina, and Emma, wanting to be popular, begins to ignore her. High school offers more challenges. Emma is attracted to Brian but insists on being friends because she fears losing those she loves. She loses her virginity to another boy. Emma and her friends go to parties where they drink too much and cross the river to nearby Canada with false IDs so they can drink in bars. A classmate commits suicide when rejected by Yale. The inevitable prom trauma—finding the dress and the date are equal chores—is followed by the almost anticlimactic graduation. At a reunion ten years later, Emma is drinking hard and Billy is still single. The drawings by comic-book illustrator Christine Norrie underline the numbingly familiar nature of these experiences; combined with McCandless’s shallow insights, they suggest the book would be more appropriately marketed as a YA title.

A dispiriting reminder that youth is wasted on the young.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5612-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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