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The Girl in the Red Coat
336 pages; Melville House
Every sentence in Kate Hamer's debut is so perceptive that you're torn between wanting to linger on the thought and itching to learn what happens next. Beth, a single mother, watches her eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, leave for school "in those tights that made cherry licorice of her legs." Carmel is a special child—precocious, dreamy and possibly struggling with some version of Asperger's. Describing a trip to a maze with her mom, the girl says, "We're in this big park and mist is rolling around in ghost shapes. There's a huge grey house with hundreds of windows that are all looking at us." One day, while willfully hiding from her mother, Carmel is kidnapped by an itinerate preacher who has been watching her. He believes she is "the One"—a child with healing powers who will make him rich. The taut plot alternates between Carmel's emotional struggle to survive and Beth's refusal to believe that her daughter is gone forever. Meanwhile, their complex yet unbreakable bond is rendered with honesty and love.
— Dawn Raffel