Lucinda grows up at the very end of the Cold War, the daughter of a military family who has never lived in the United States. They have moved from one base to another her whole life. This book is about how she copes during her teen years, particularly with a volatile mother, an oblivious father, and unreliable friendships. It is also about her saving grace — rock and roll. The specific time period, circumstances and setting make it feel like historical fiction, as recent as it is, and I think that may be the way I booktalk it to teens.
I found myself quite absorbed by this coming-of-age story. There is no struggle to reading Along the Watchtower. The writing is smooth, the characters are interesting yet perfectly realistic, and the setting almost steals the show. A lot happens — a best friend’s father suicides, Lucinda’s parents divorce, she is nearly raped after allowing the wrong boy to take her to a club, she is kicked out of the house by her mother and left homeless, the boy she loves signs up to go to war. Yet somehow this is all part of real life, and life goes on. In Lucinda’s case, music helps a lot. After all the craziness of her family and school and friends and boys, at least she can shut her bedroom door and turn on a cassette tape.
In the review, I comment that the author gets every little detail right. One scene particularly sticks in my mind. Lucinda’s 9th grade class takes a school trip to Dachau. The entire situation is uneasy, but it’s not the tour itself so much as the stop at McDonalds for lunch afterwards that resonates. The palpable relief of returning to the present.
Lucinda’s parents are a big part of the story, her father especially. He is a terribly fallible man who loves his kids, even if he’s too selfish to take care of them very well. He is oblivious to his family’s needs, he cheats on his wife, he considers Lucinda’s epilepsy a weakness to be overcome. He later allows her to work three jobs supporting herself as a college student at the University of Oklahoma while contributing to a college fund for her younger siblings. You want to hate him, but he is saved by his vulnerability and the times he really does try to do the right thing. He’s human. And Lucinda sees all of this, although her teenaged perceptions do not always interpret what she sees correctly.
I enjoyed this article about Squires, especially the fact that it was while reading Sherman Alexie that she realized her own life could inspire her fiction.
Adult/High School–Lucinda, her mother, and her siblings arrive at their latest army posting in Germany to subpar lodgings and no supplies to speak of. This is typically neglectful of Lucinda’s father, so she runs out to find him, leaving her volatile mother raging in the apartment. She meets a group of fellow army kids in the stairwell and immediately hits it off with Syd. Unfortunately, his family is about to transfer. Making friends is difficult knowing you will lose them; it is also complicated by Lucinda’s mortifying bouts of epilepsy. Surely everything would be simpler if they lived in the States. Lucinda is saved by a growing obsession with music, especially after her father asks Nately (a soldier who can hardly refuse his commanding officer) to share his LPs. Their common love of rock and roll sparks a touching friendship. Sadly, when she finally moves to the States after her parents’ divorce, Lucinda feels more lost than ever. The novel is divided into three sections, during which Lucinda is 13, 16, and 19 years old, and spans the end of the Cold War through Desert Storm. Teens will enjoy the insider view of life as an “army brat” and find Lucinda’s coping strategies affecting. They will also enjoy her sparring with charming Syd, who reappears more than once. Squires gets even the smallest details of time period, setting, and emotion right. Although the book becomes a bit preachy (Lucinda’s father returns from Desert Storm disillusioned by the army’s willingness to wage war for oil profits) and the plot meanders, this is an absorbing read.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City