Points for honesty and grit, though that’s hardly enough to compensate for all the flaws.



A Desert Storm veteran's amateurish and overwritten, if not without a certain rakish appeal, first novel—about African-Americans in the military—pulls few punches in depicting the tribulations of First Lieutenant Sanderella Coffee.

Twenty-nine and just back from a tour of duty in Germany, Sanderella is focused on her illustrious goal—biding her time in Virginia until she’s admitted to Officers’ Candidate School. A single mother of three (by three fathers), Sanderella admits that when matters veer toward love, she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. So she swears off men—that is, until she catches sight of Drill Sergeant Romulus Caesar. As the story alternates between the voices of Sandie and Rom (so seamlessly it’s often difficult to tell who’s talking), the two begin a passionate affair, despite Romulus being married, with twin boys at home. He promises Sandie he’ll divorce, and for a certain time their relationship seems promising. The two, neither of them particularly likable, build a supportive relationship, one that helps carry Sandie through hard times: Her older sister has HIV, both of her parents are ill, her superior officer has it in for her, and, to top it off, she discovers she’s pregnant. Unfortunately coinciding with Sandie’s pregnancy is the appearance of Rom’s guilty conscience. He decides to break it off and return to his wife and sons, not wanting to be the kind of absent parent his father was to him. Though overloaded with uplifting convictions as to the potential of the African-American community, a certain raw honesty in the depiction of Sandie and her family redeems the obvious sentiments. Less forgivable is the language, too often ungoverned and unintentionally silly: “ ‘Sandie,’ he said as he reached inside his briefs and carefully extracted his family jewels, ‘this is Mr. Bobo. And he’s all yours.’ ”

Points for honesty and grit, though that’s hardly enough to compensate for all the flaws.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-75777-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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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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