A fraught subject, handled with gravitas and, improbably, grace.

WHERE YOU CAN FIND ME

A family moves to Costa Rica to heal from a kidnapping.

At age 11, Caleb Vincent was abducted and imprisoned in a basement, then starved and trafficked by a ring of pedophiles. Discovered by the FBI living with a man nicknamed Jolly, Caleb, 14, is brought home from Washington state to his parents in Atlanta. Marlene, his mother, never lost hope for Caleb’s return, but his father, Jeff, had at one point given him up for dead. To escape her shaky marriage and the intrusive media that hounds the family day and night, Marlene moves herself, Caleb and 11-year old daughter, Lark, to Costa Rica to live in the cloud forest at a ramshackle hotel owned by Jeff’s mother, Hilda. As the narration dips in and out of Caleb’s head, the reader only gradually learns what happened to him during his disappearance. Jolly, it emerges, is a doctor who rescued Caleb from the pedophiles and took a paternal as well as sexual interest in him. The paternal won out when Jolly encouraged Caleb to attend school, thus facilitating another rescue, this time by authorities. So ambivalent is Caleb about his feelings for Jolly that he refuses to cooperate with the FBI’s prosecution of him (the original kidnappers are still at large) and cannot resist making contact with Jolly from Costa Rica. Meanwhile, other sexually charged scenarios play out: Marlene rekindles an old romance with her husband’s brother, Lowell, and Caleb dates a local girl, Isabel, while not so secretly yearning for her transvestite cousin, Luis. Joseph approaches this explosive material with circumspection, perhaps excessively: So much time is devoted to atmospheric but aimless descriptions of Costa Rican scenery, flora and fauna that at times the travelogue overwhelms the plot, which unfolds at a leisurely, tropical pace. However, Joseph’s preoccupations are less with plot than with honestly confronting the internal conflicts that can arise in reaction to unspeakable crimes.

A fraught subject, handled with gravitas and, improbably, grace.

Pub Date: April 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-01285-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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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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