23 April 2011

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Flap Copy: "Ro Grandee is the perfect Texas housewife. She's determined to be nothing like her long-missing mother - the one who left her with only a heap of old novels and her father's fists for company - so Ro keeps quiet and takes her husband's punches like a lady. But Ro wasn't always this way. Underneath her pastel skirts and hidden bruises lies Rose Mae Lolley, teenage spitfire, Alabama heartbreaker, and a crack shot with a pistol. Rose Mae is resurrected when a gypsy's tarot cards foretell doom for dutiful Ro: her handsome husband is going to kill her. Unless she kills him first.

Armed with only her wit, her pawpy's ancient .45, and her dog Fat Gretel, Rose Mae hightails it out of Texas. In a journey that is by turns harrowing and exhilerating, she uncovers long-buried truths about her family and herself, running from the man who will never let her go, on a mission to find the mother who did."

I came into this book with high hopes - I've loved Jackson's previous novels and was looking forward to another gripping story. I was not disappointed. From the start, the plot grabs you, while Jackson's voice sparkles with wit even in the face of some serious subjects.

Rose Mae, a good Southern Catholic girl, is the main character, though her alter-egos Mrs. Ro Grandee and Ivy Rose Wheeler play equally into the movement of the plot. Rose Mae was abandoned by her mother and left to her abusive, alcoholic father. Ro is Thom Grandee's beautiful, perfect punching bag of a wife. Ivy Rose has reached the end of her tether, and is running both from her husband and from her past. Rose, like most people, lives as a complex mix of all three and constantly seeks some order in her mind and in her life.

I think Jackson has a gift for developing characters in such a way that draws the reader in, post-reading, makes the characters difficult to shake. Often stories of abuse can seem a little tired or predictable - Jackson took a difficult topic and gave it such an appealing, human voice that I was audibly rooting for her as I read. I highly recommend this book, 4 stars!

21 April 2011

Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

Flap Copy from ARC: "Thirteen-year-old Lacey wakes to a beautiful summer morning excited to begin her new job at the library, just as her mother is set to start work at the local grocery store. Lacey hopes that her mother's ghosts have finally been laid to rest; after all, she seems so much better these days, and they really do need the money. But as the hours tick by and memories come flooding back, a day full of hope spins terrifyingly out of control ..."

I loved Carol Lynch Williams' 'The Chosen One' when I read it a couple of years ago - 'Miles from Ordinary' certainly rose to the challenge of meeting and exceeding my expectations for Williams' next work. At the start of the book, thirteen-year-old Lacey has very reasonable hopes for her summer - jobs for herself and for her mom, and the chance to make a real friend for herself, someone who might share and understand her life. The book chronicles one day, from hopeful morning through to desperate and tragic evening, and captures with haunting realism the desperation Lacey feels when her mother disappears and her day - and life - fall apart.

Williams has a real knack for writing adolescence with honesty and tenderness - Lacey is a well-developed, nuanced character and I acutely felt her pain and distress through Williams' prose. I highly recommend this book, for YA and mature readers alike - 5 stars!

15 April 2011

Wrecker by Summer Wood

Flap Copy from ARC: "It's June 1965 when Wrecker enters the world. The war is waging in Vietnam, San Francisco is tripping toward flower power, and Lisa Fay, Wrecker's birth mother, is knocked nearly sideways by life as a single parent in a city she can barely manage to navigate on her own. Three years later, she's in prison, and Wrecker is left to bounce around in the system before he's shipped off to live with distant relatives in the wilds of Humboldt County, California. When he arrives he's scared and angry, ready to explode at the least thing, and quick to flee. 'Wrecker' is the story of this boy and the motley group of isolated eccentrics who come together to raise him, and become a family along the way."

Summer Wood's novel tells the story of Wrecker, a destructive 3-year old who ends up in the custody of his uncle after his mother goes to prison. When Uncle Len realizes he can't care for a child on his own, he turns to his neighbors - a motley group of women who've escaped their own lives and heartaches and started fresh at Bow Farm. The plot follows Wrecker as he grows, but this book is about much more than one boy's journey into adulthood - Wood captures the essence of family in the most unconventional of packages, and really brings home the notion that love comes in all shapes, sizes and demonstrative forms.

Some other reviewers felt removed from the characters and found it hard to relate to their problems - I disagree, I think Wood's characters are well-developed. By the end of the novel, I felt that I knew each backstory, knew their problems and their joys.

I think 'Wrecker' is a great portrait of family life, and the myriad ways that people change their lives for and because of the other people in their lives. Once I started reading, I was reluctant to put the book down. I give it 4 stars!