One of Just’s best works: stuffed with surprises, sparkling with insights.



Fourteenth outing for Just (The Weather in Berlin, 2002, etc.), who, supple as ever, takes coming-of-age material and puts his distinctive stamp on it.

Wils Ravan may live in farm country outside Chicago, but he’s no rube; he’s been sneaking into a Chicago jazz club since he was 15. Now 19 and wise beyond his years, his urbane narrative voice never seems discordant, a neat trick. His father, Teddy, a rock-ribbed Republican, owns a printing business, where he’s a paternalistic employer, shocked when his people strike. Thinking the Reds may be stirring the pot—it’s the early 1950’s—Teddy hires strikebreakers and carries a gun. When a brick crashes through the window during family dinner, Wils realizes what it means to protect your loved ones and bonds with his father as never before. Then the strike peters out (no winners) and Wils lands a summer job with a Chicago tabloid while going to debutante parties at night. To the North Shore crowd, Wils is newspaper riff-raff; to the reporters, he’s one of the exploiting classes. Caught between the two, he learns that perception can be everything. Then he meets Aurora, so different from the other airheads, no doubt because she’s the daughter of Jack Brune, a divorced Freudian therapist. The rapport is immediate, but the two fight over secrets: He doesn’t believe in having any, she does. Secrets, and their inevitability in even the closest relationships, are what the novel is about, and coming of age means only a partial de-coding of the mysteries. Wils will lose his virginity with Aurora, but their happiness is short-lived; the unpredictable Jack, a man of many secrets, shoots himself after a quarrel with his mistress Consuela, an exotic Greek Cypriot. Aurora orders Consuela out of the house; Wils fails to take his girl’s side, and the lovers become strangers. Wils emerges from his baptism of fire with enough mysteries to ponder for a lifetime.

One of Just’s best works: stuffed with surprises, sparkling with insights.

Pub Date: July 8, 2004

ISBN: 0-618-03669-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?