Could use more wonder but otherwise an impressively conceived story with true weight.

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THE HYSTERY APP

A lesbian couple accidentally creates an extremely unique app in Davy’s (A Very Civil Wedding, 2014, etc.) darkly satirical sci-fi novel.

While attempting to effectively create their own Internet in order to privately upload and share their research with each other via a satellite they dub “Big Sister,” Dr. Brogan Miller, a biophysicist, and her wife, Dr. Honor Smith, a women’s history lecturer, stumble upon a strange phenomenon. Somehow, their computer cameras are allowing them to see into the past based on any date they input. Furthermore, only deceased women show up on the video feeds, often seeming to respond to men who can’t be seen or heard. If someone were to try to watch a moment involving a still-living woman, she wouldn’t show up. Eventually, they strike upon the idea to turn it into an app that Honor names “The Hystery App,” which they believe will forever change how history is understood now that the patriarchal filter is gone. Their best-laid plans go awry, however, when men start to use it for pornography, voyeuristically watching often long-dead women in sexual situations. Davy’s imaginative, incisive story is a prime example of how sci-fi as a genre can be used to explore complex societal issues. The focus isn’t on how this app ever managed to work—besides some briefly explored wormhole theory— because the effects are more important. The novel wisely begins by delving into the endless positive potential for its time-travel device and then shows the numerous ways it could be perverted, human (and specifically male) nature being what it is. Davy also imbues the main characters with full, three-dimensional life, making it a novel about these specific women, not just ideas. Unfortunately, the novel spends too much time mired in family drama that, while realistically crafted, feels too mundane for a concept with such intriguing possibilities. While many works of sci-fi focus on their concepts to the detriment of their humanity, this novel does nearly the opposite.

Could use more wonder but otherwise an impressively conceived story with true weight.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0957408869

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Liberation Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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