Although this novel’s dialogue tends to lack panache, the story as a whole offers intriguing circumstances and outcomes.

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The Pusher, the Prostitute and a Preacher

Trammel (18 Years of Grace and Mercy, 2012) offers a novel about the lives of three intersecting characters and their relationships with God.

Benjamin lives in a pleasant condominium in Silver Spring, Maryland, and he’s doing quite well for himself, at least on the surface. He’s a college student by day and a drug dealer by trade, working for a man known to most people as “Hard Time.” The two are exacting and discreet, and, along with Benjamin’s friend Winn, they prove highly successful in a business that sends many others to jail; as Hard Time tells people, the reason he got his nickname is “because the police have a hard time catching my ass.” But how long will their luck last? Meanwhile, in New York City, an aging prostitute’s life is about to change. After a longtime customer offers her $10,000 if she’ll give up her profession, she sees it as an opportunity to return home to her troubled family. As she discards her street name, “Sunny,” for her given name, Hannah, she knows that a homecoming is necessary, though it certainly won’t be easy. Elsewhere, Marco Gibson has just been freed from prison in Virginia. After 20 years and nine months of being locked up, he’s determined to avoid the temptations of his drug-dealing brother, Hard Time. His main goal is to eventually serve his community and expound upon his Christian faith, but he knows well that the path ahead of him is steep. Trammel sets the stage for a collision of characters who are already connected, though they may not all realize it. Just what this collision will bring makes up the heart of this touching tale, which explores the choices that people make in life and their opportunities for redemption. The dialogue does veer toward the obvious at times, as when Marco explains that he doesn’t mind janitorial duties because “I’d rather push a broom in there on the low level than push drugs on the street in a low life.” Nevertheless, the story gets its lasting power from the qualities of its main characters’ personalities—people who may find themselves caught up in dire conditions but who ultimately find ways to look for light at the end of the tunnel.

Although this novel’s dialogue tends to lack panache, the story as a whole offers intriguing circumstances and outcomes. 

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62772-395-4

Page Count: 536

Publisher: America Star Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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