An absorbing tale of Muslim women taking their destinies into their own hands.

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Beneath A Shooting Star

Two Pakistani women have their friendship challenged by sectarian division, violence, and sexism in this debut novel.

Brash, outgoing Nadira and shy, dutiful Hameeda are opposites, but the two Lahore schoolgirls become fast friends. Religious differences—Nadira’s family is Sunni, Hameeda’s Shiite—intrude when a Sunni mob attacks a Shiite procession, killing Hameeda’s grandfather. Her pious father commands her never to see Nadira again, an abrupt rupture that leaves the girls feeling wounded, guilty, and lonely. They grow up and embrace similar roles as upper-middle-class housewives, which chafe them in different ways: the smart, ambitious Nadira feels ignored and marginalized by her increasingly brusque husband, while the more conventional and religious Hameeda remains plagued by her querulous, live-in mother-in-law. The two housewives’ sheltered—and confining—lives are gradually intruded upon by the growing turmoil of Sunni-Shiite violence, Islamic extremism, and terrorist outrages in Pakistan, until a shocking crime forces both women to take stock, try new paths, and rekindle their long-lost friendship. Much of Rashid’s novel is a subtle portrait of domestic life, as Narida and Hameeda oversee their households, ride herd on kids, negotiate with parents and husbands, and come to terms with disappointments and constraints. Their perceptions are shaped in complex, sometimes surprising ways by changes in Pakistani society: Nadira is empowered by new opportunities for women to get an education but frustrated when her career prospects remain limited; Hameeda finds that wearing an all-enclosing burqa in public makes her feel confident and safe. Writing in a limpid prose style, Rashid depicts her vivid characters and their society with nuance and sensitivity, setting them against a colorful tapestry of local culture, including a dazzling wedding set piece. In this quietly affecting novel, Nadira and Hameeda are believable and appealing protagonists, and readers should find their life choices and predicaments both exotic and familiar.

An absorbing tale of Muslim women taking their destinies into their own hands.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 401

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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