An unassuming treatment that fails to meet the terms of its explosive tale, unrealistically minimizing it instead.



A jealous, scourge-of-the-devil mother terrorizes her 12-year-old daughter on their rural north Texas wheat farm—in this thin, sweet, ultimately two-dimensional debut written in the form of the girl’s diary.

It’s the summer of 1960 and Lou Ann Campbell sneaks entries in her diary because her mother, Loretta, hunts through her room to make sure she’s not hiding anything. Loretta also examines her daughter’s daily bowel movements and keeps Lou Ann busy braiding plastic around hangers so the devil can’t get her. Loretta is presumably pregnant again after five miscarriages, but it’s dubious, and when her husband, Bill, starts messing around with the neighbor ladies, she avenges herself by making life hell for the family (there is also a 14-year-old son, Will) and farmhands who eat regularly at her table. Food is spiced beyond edibility, cheap plastic flowers and girlie magazines appear all over the house, and Loretta won’t stop using her own daughter as an instrument in shaming her husband. Lou Ann, a quiet, lonely child who has fashioned dolls for each sibling she has “lost” and keeps them hidden safely in a box, observes her mother’s escalating fury at a cool, first-person distance as if she has never been allowed to feel for herself; in effect, the story becomes the girl’s triumphant (though melodramatic) wrenching back of her free will. There are convincing details of life on a wheat farm and serviceable if oversimple depictions of a daughter’s trepidation at the dawn of her womanhood (“Well well well . . . I have started ministrating”). Overall, however, there's little emotional depth or a richness of characterization that could carry it farther than it now goes. Loretta comes off merely as an evil witch who would destroy her daughter for a brand-new modern refrigerator—in aquamarine.

An unassuming treatment that fails to meet the terms of its explosive tale, unrealistically minimizing it instead.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-57322-219-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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