Heartfelt and charming; a book that goes down easy.

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THE REMINDERS

Achingly sweet and unexpectedly nuanced, Emmich’s clever debut follows the unlikely bond between a grief-stricken actor and a gifted 10-year-old girl in Jersey City.

Joan Lennon Sully is a 10-year-old with a startling gift: she can remember, in exacting detail, everything that’s ever happened to her. She knows how many times her mother has said “it never fails” in the past six months; she remembers the date and reason for every time she’s ever cried (Wednesday, March 25, 2009: the day Pepper was put to sleep; Wednesday, May 15, 2013: the day Mrs. Dresden called time on a test before she was finished). But she knows most people do not have her memory; most people, she understands, forget things, and Joan Lennon does not want to be forgotten. So when she spots an ad in the paper for “The Next Great Songwriter Contest,” she sees her answer: a good song is like a permanent reminder, she reasons. If she can win the Next Great Songwriter Contest with a Joan Lennon original, then she’ll never be forgotten. She just needs to find the right collaborator—and that’s where Gavin Winters comes in. An old friend of Joan’s parents, Gavin is a successful actor in Los Angeles overwhelmed with grief after his partner Sydney’s sudden death. After he has a very public breakdown (fire was involved), Joan’s parents invite Gavin to take refuge with them in New Jersey, where he and Joan strike up an unusual deal: he’ll help Joan with her song if, in return, Joan will recount her memories of Sydney, snapshots from his few visits to the family over the past several years. But what starts as a source of comfort for Gavin takes an unsettling turn when Joan unknowingly reveals details that force Gavin to contemplate the possibility that Sydney may have been keeping secrets of his own. Overwhelmingly tender, sometimes verging on saccharine, the novel gets by on its profoundly likable pair of leading characters: what the book lacks in bite, it makes up for in charm.

Heartfelt and charming; a book that goes down easy.

Pub Date: May 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-31699-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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