A sometimes-evocative story of surviving danger with others’ help, despite some missed opportunities.

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ADVENTURES OF HANNAH CLAIRE

When a big storm threatens an island orphanage, animals come to the aid of people in trouble in this debut short story for middle-grade readers.

Somewhere in the Northeast United States, there’s a place that locals call the Isle of Hope. It’s home to an orphanage and school, owned by Dr. John Smyth, a clinical psychiatrist who inherited a fortune that’s rumored to have originated in Smyths’ earlier smuggling and piracy. The young orphans warn newcomer Charles Parker to stay in bed at night to avoid encountering pirate ghosts. Despite such teasing, Charles feels right at home—partly because he was allowed to bring his pet cat, Boots. The boy makes friends with Hayden, the Smyths’ friendly son, who immediately nicknames him “Chuck.” As they explore the island, Hayden points out a seabird whom he calls “Hannah Claire,” saying he can talk to her and other animals. Other birds, meanwhile, warn Hannah not to communicate with Hayden; they advise her to settle down and raise chicks, but she prizes her freedom. When a big storm threatens the island, the orphanage’s residents evacuate. A whaling captain picks up stragglers, including Hayden, his father, and Charles; however, Hannah Claire perches on the ship’s rail, as if trying to warn them of danger. The ship does encounter difficulties, but a surprising occurrence prevents the vessel from running aground, which later causes the captain to change his ways. Directly afterward, Hannah is blown away by the wind. Ten years later, Hayden and Charles are attending the National Maritime Academy and, while taking a walk, they recognize a bird’s distinctive, single black feather. Later, an old Smyth family member returns to the island and is greeted by a familiar animal. There’s an old-storybook quality to this tale, with its adventures, hints of piracy, and communication with animals. It also takes place in an unspecified year, sometime before whale-hunting was outlawed, and this vagueness lends the proceedings a once-upon-a-time feeling, as does the animal-helper motif, common in fairy tales. An appreciation for animals runs throughout the book; for example, the adults never seriously consider banning Boots, even after he steals fish right off the dinner table, “his tail pointed straight up, acting like a rudder to guide him.” (However, readers never learn exactly what kind of seabird Hannah is.) The foreshadowed adventures in the book’s title, however, never actually materialize. It is said that long ago, Dr. Smyth saved a girl named Hannah Claire from falling off a cliff; he later speculates that Hayden heard his parents talk about her, and then named the bird after her because both of them are travelers. That may be, but the traveling adventures of Hannah Claire—bird or girl—are all offstage, and the book seems to hint at a significance for the double-naming that it never really explores. It also drops the intriguing question of how Hayden is able to talk with birds and otters.

A sometimes-evocative story of surviving danger with others’ help, despite some missed opportunities.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942207-09-2

Page Count: 96

Publisher: West Street Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2019

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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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