An often enthralling tale of how a strong family can withstand anything.



Tutalo’s debut novel follows an undocumented Mexican immigrant who becomes entangled with a crime syndicate in order to survive in America with her young daughter.

To escape poverty in Mexico, Gabriela makes some hard choices. She begins her life in the United States as a drug mule, forced to pay off a debt to her drug trafficker boss, Salas, who punishes her for minor offenses, including tardiness. Gabriela eventually gets her own apartment in New Jersey, but she’s unable to hold a job, and, later, she becomes pregnant. She unfortunately receives assistance from Don Fernandez, a high-ranking official for Nada Mas, a criminal organization tied to drug running, human trafficking, and a pedophilia ring. She eventually manages to get out from under Fernandez’s thumb, which requires her to steal a few incriminating documents. She raises her daughter, Sarita, in solitude and the relative safety of the Garden State, but after some time, Fernandez and associates track her down, abduct her, and send her back to Mexico. Consequently, Sarita seeks help from a reclusive neighbor and struggling artist named Dante. He comes with his own bundle of problems, though, including an association with Bella Notta, a powerful man who blames him for his daughter Lola’s “loss of innocence.” Once it’s clear that Fernandez has sent people to eliminate Sarita, she and Dante flee, and the FBI is soon hot on their trails. Special Agents Alec D. Donovan and William W. Walsh not only uncover information about Dante, they also suspect that he kidnapped Sarita. Meanwhile, Dante and Sarita fight to stay alive. Tutalo’s story is epic in scale and set over quite a long period, starting with Gabriela as a little girl in Mexico and ending with an adult Sarita discovering her mother’s journals. Tutalo skillfully maps it all out in a nonlinear narrative, clearly establishing each scene even as the story bounces between different points in time. It maintains a consistent sense of momentum throughout, aided by short chapter lengths. Gabriela is appealing from the start, as when she helps a mother and child as they dash across the U.S.–Mexico border, disregarding the possibility that she could be captured herself. There are some touching moments, especially involving Gabriela and Sarita, but also a good amount of violence. One brutal attack against Gabriela, for example, is particularly alarming due to its suddenness and randomness. However, this pales in comparison to a later scene involving Dante and a secret room with chains, medical instruments, and much worse. Tutalo’s metaphors are occasionally too conspicuous; Gabriela, for example, has scars from cigarette burns, courtesy of Salas, which the author unnecessarily connects to an “emotional stain” and “darker time from Gabriela’s past.” Nevertheless, in many other instances, the lavish descriptions linger: “Everything that had once been was now forever gone, and everything that might be was now a blank canvas waiting to be painted.” And despite the book’s bouts of gloom, there’s an unmistakable message of hope that never fades.

An often enthralling tale of how a strong family can withstand anything.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-92245-3

Page Count: 578

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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