An engaging, thorough novel about forgotten heroes of aviation history.

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The Challengers Aero Club

Perez’s debut historical novel fictionalizes the story of three pioneering black aviators who changed the face of aeronautics.

When one thinks about America’s aviation heroes, the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart come to mind. Lesser known are Cornelius C. Coffey, John C. Robinson and Willa B. Brown, real-life African-American historical figures who revolutionized aviation from the late 1920s through World War II. Brown was a schoolteacher in Gary, Ind., with a mind for machines, while Robinson and Coffey were working as well-regarded but underpaid auto mechanics. All had a desire to fly, and their paths crossed at a Walgreens drug store, when Willa, working temporarily as a waitress and cashier, overheard the two young men talking about a plane they had built. They insisted that she come see it, and the rest is history. Coffey and Robinson studied for and obtained pilot’s licenses (despite a stated “no colored” student policy), becoming the first black men in the United States to do so. They ran their own hangar in Robbins, Ill., eventually relocating to Chicago and founding the Coffey School of Aeronautics in 1935 with Willa Brown as Director, making it the only integrated flight school at the time. With the support of powerful parties—including first lady Eleanor Roosevelt—the three continued to break Jim Crow–era boundaries, including the U.S. Army’s race barrier, by managing the first black-operated government-funded flight school during World War II. For all of their accomplishments, it’s hard to believe that more people don’t affiliate them with the history of flight. Perez, a filmmaker, paces the novel well, tackling more than a decade’s worth of change in the field of aeronautics and its place in a racially divided country. But he balances more serious matter with his characters’ joy of flying as they soar at more than 300 mph, doing barrel rolls and loop-the-loops. Although the mechanical detail can sometimes be tedious, the author keeps the story moving with ample dialogue and glimpses into his protagonists’ personal lives. Unfortunately, with so much buildup leading to World War II, relatively little literary real estate is given to the characters’ post-war years.

An engaging, thorough novel about forgotten heroes of aviation history.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0979088100

Page Count: 402

Publisher: Script & Post Script

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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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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