One of the year's most charming books. Kirn has little to fear from fellow reviewers. Most of them should love Thumbsucker.

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THUMBSUCKER

A funny and engagingly original portrayal of adolescence in eruption: an accomplished second novel from the author of My Hard Bargain (1990) and She Needed Me (1992) who has also made his mark as a prominent freelance reviewer.

Kirn's likable protagonist and narrator is 16-year-old Justin Cobb of suburban Shandstrom Falls, Minnesota, dubbed ``the King Kong of oral obsessive'' by the family dentist, who only partially succeeds in breaking Justin of the embarrassing habit he's retained since infancy. Ritalin helps, but it's overmatched by the many confusions the Cobb family's lively behavior continually engenders. Younger brother Joel (an unfortunately sketchily drawn figure) is a conventional teenaged athletic prodigy. The boys beautiful mother Audrey, who works as a part-time nurse helping the rich and famous dry out and sober up, fantasizes a romantic friendship with TV heartthrob Don Johnson. And father Mike is a wonderful character: former football star and inveterate jock-worshiper, he's a bizarre manic-depressive mixture of stoic, bully, chronic whiner, conscientious parent and provider. Kirn takes Justin through an episodic succession of generic rites of passage drugs, rebellion against authority, borderline-sexual initiation but the novel distances itself from the ever-increasing hundreds of Catcher in the Rye imitations through Kirns respect for the individual distinctions, as well as the idiosyncrasies, of this utterly disarming nuclear family. Justin is, of all things, a gifted debater who stars on his schools ``speech team'' while loosely preparing himself ``to become a TV issues-analyst and stir the nation with controversial insights. And the Cobb family's embattled embrace of the Mormon faith occasions a neatly linked series of bittersweet comic scenes climaxed by Justin's matured determination, simply, to become the person he is: warts, thumbsucking, and all.

One of the year's most charming books. Kirn has little to fear from fellow reviewers. Most of them should love Thumbsucker.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-385-49709-1

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1999

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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