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

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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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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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