For Mandy Boyle, getting into Albany State University represents a hard-won liberation, not only from her dead-end Upstate New York hometown but from her mother's stifling presence and their family's humiliating status as a church charity case. But the death of Mandy's beloved father throws the self-possessed student into a tailspin and makes her question her goals.
In this impressive debut novel, Brown explores a young woman's emotional upheavals with sincerity and grace. Mandy's almost predictable plunge into a relationship with a slightly older guy—and the painful consequences of that development—are sensitively and credibly rendered. And yet Quickening lacks tear-inducing power; the depictions of the minutiae of Mandy's inner turmoil ultimately feel workmanlike and repetitive. Still, Brown is a talent to watch. (Random House, $23.95)