Buzz Books by Publishers Lunch selection
Library Journal “Best Debut Novels” selection
“Spellbinding. . . . Wholly engrossing. . . . This hypnotic and deeply cerebral exploration is a seductive escape. Through Ella and Elena’s efforts to reconstruct a sense of selfoutside family, beyond academia and expectationthrough language, Dennis confronts the various ways we try to understand ourselves and others.” Washington Post
“A young woman has disappeared, and her mother asks a dead friend’s daughter to reconstruct the young woman’s life from her diaries, in the hopes of stumbling on clues to where she may be. It’s a premise that would be a stretch for any novelist, but in her experimental debut Amanda Dennis wields that stretch the way a candymaker pulls and thickens ropes of sugar on hooks.” Literary Hub
“Dennis’s elegant yet propulsive debut becomes much more than a missing-persons search. . . . Elena’s narrative-within-a-narrative nicely reveals the creative process, while Dennis’s larger story confirms the value of living boldly.” Library Journal (starred review)
“Wrenching and revelatory.” Foreword Reviews (starred review)
“Dennis’ sensory prose leads to a fascinating exploration of identity, grief, and time.” Kirkus Reviews
“Evocative and meditative, Her Here is a ghost story without a ghost, a marvel of incantatory wit. Dennis weaves a mesmerizing web around her subject, drawing the reader into an intricate, volatile mystery whose end is always and never within reach.” Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine and Intimations
“In Her Here, Dennis has written a metaphysical investigation that is also a wonderfully personal account of a daughter coming to terms with the loss of her mother, and a mother coming to terms with the loss of her daughter. As Elena conjures Ella’s last days, the richly imagined narrative moves back and forth between Paris and Thailand, carrying both characters and readers to a vivid and suspenseful conclusion.” Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy and The Boy in the Field
“Dennis is in possession of hypnotic narrative gifts and a ferocious intellect. With Her Here, she has claimed her place in the literary world.” Rebecca Makkai, author of Music for Wartime and The Great Believers
“Dazzling. Dennis is a writer that awakens the senses. From the first page, this gorgeous, haunting story about two lost girls ensnares the reader with such expertise, such intelligence and heart, that before long you’re lost inside the eerie sensuality of youthful dreams, witnessing obsession unravel identity.” Dina Nayeri, author of Refuge and The Ungrateful Refugee
DEBUT Meeting in Paris with sculptor Siobhán, an old friend of her mother, late-twenties Elena is offered a startling proposition: Siobhán wants her to craft a narrative from the journals left behind by Siobhán's daughter, Ella, who vanished in Thailand six years previously. This act, Siobhán believes, will clarify what really happened to Ella, who learned only as an adult that Siobhán had birthed her and given her away. Even as Elena abandons her dissertation and boyfriend in America, moving to a Montmartre studio Siobhán makes available, Dennis's elegant yet propulsive debut becomes much more than a missing-persons search. Elena is also trying to learn more about her own artist mother, gifted yet twice institutionalized, whose shocking death left Elena with a six-month memory gap. Adding further tension, Ella's troubled state of mind worryingly mirrors—and might amplify—Elena's. The narrative shifts gracefully among Elena's story, the elliptical journal entries, and the increasingly interesting reconstruction of a life for Ella, who's found in Elena's pages if not in reality. VERDICT Elena's narrative-within-a-narrative nicely reveals the creative process, while Dennis's larger story confirms the value of living boldly even as we step back to frame our experiences. Highly recommended.
A former scholar searches for a missing woman in an unorthodox way.
In Dennis’ elusive debut novel, Elena—a young woman grieving her late mother—finds herself in the pages of a missing woman’s journal. Still traumatized by her mother’s death six years ago, Elena is plagued with memory loss and a slippery sense of self: “Forgetting is how the body keeps itself sane.” When Siobhán, her late mother’s friend, reaches out with an unconventional job offer, Elena moves to Paris, leaving behind her graduate program and long-term boyfriend. Siobhán wants Elena to find Ella, her biological daughter, who fled to Thailand when her adoptive parents told her the truth about her birth—and has been missing for the past six years. Craving closure, she asks Elena to rewrite Ella’s impressionistic journals "as an account of what happened" and use that narrative to unearth clues that may be hidden in plain sight. Physically and emotionally unmoored for years, Elena loses herself in the task almost immediately: “The difference now is purpose—one to string itself through my days, adding tautness, definition, orienting them on an axis of someone else.” If the journal rewriting is an interesting (if convoluted) premise, Dennis’ sensory prose leads to a fascinating exploration of identity, grief, and time. As Ella’s journals tip further toward madness, the two women’s lives become more intertwined; the physical, mental, and emotional boundaries between them become nearly nonexistent. Dennis’ abilities to blur fact and fiction—through structure and pronoun use—and wield language elevate the novel. Her prose is sensory and unsettling: “three days, ample and round, like peaches ripening in the summer markets”; “I was becoming other than myself, to my delight and terror.” With an unsurprising (though satisfying) ending, the women come to terms with their lives—the ones they currently inhabit and the one Elena has created.
An experimental, psychological debut about selfhood, fiction, and memory.