Last week Mark put together a terrific list of current books by past Alex Award winners. Today, we offer two reviews from that group.
We begin with the second book by Lisa O’Donnell, Closed Doors. O’Donnell’s debut, The Death of Bees, won an Alex Award just last year. Our reviewer called The Death of Bees a “quick but often uncomfortable read” and noted its “engrossing exploration of relationships.” Closed Doors is equally hard-hitting, but less black humor and more straight coming-of-age. In both novels, the voice of the characters is particularly strong.
Mary Lawson won a 2003 Alex Award for her debut, Crow Lake. The Alex annotation reads, “Now a successful zoology professor, Kate recalls her parents’ death and being brought up and sustained by her older brothers, especially Matt with whom she shares a love of the wonders of nature. An affecting novel about hardship, tragedy, choices, and family relationships.”
Lawson’s new novel, Road Ends, can also be categorized as tragic literary fiction. Give this one to readers who enjoy books about dysfunctional families. It is interesting that in both of these novels siblings sacrifice personal happiness for the well-being of their brothers and sisters.
O’DONNELL, Lisa. Closed Doors. 246p. HarperCollins. May 2014. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062271891.
Eleven-year-old Michael tries to make sense of the world around him by piecing together what he overhears behind closed doors and asking his friends questions. After his mother is raped, she is worried about what people in her small Scottish town will say so she invents a story to cover up the attack. When more women in the community are assaulted, Ma starts to regret her decision to keep quiet, but she fears it is too late to say anything. Michael works his way through the secrecy and overprotection of his parents and Grandma. Michael’s narration here is a cross between Jack from Emma Donoghue’s Room (Little Brown, 2010) and Ajay from Akhil Sharma’s Family Life (W. W. Norton, 2014). Teens will recognize and appreciate his authentic voice, particularly during scenes when he flip-flops between wanting to kiss girls and calling them names or when hunched over a dictionary looking up “intercourse” in order to put context to words thrown around in his house or between his peers. A strong coming-of-age tale from the Alex Award-winning author of The Death of Bees (HarperCollins, 2013).—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ
LAWSON, Mary. Road Ends. 352p. Dial Pr. Jul. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780812995732. LC 2014005691.
Megan is 21 and lives in a small town in northern Canada. Since she was a child she has kept her large and ever-growing family going. Now she is finally escaping to London to make a life for herself, and she does just that by becoming a successful hotel manager. Her family, however, is falling apart without her. Her father is distant and stays in his study while at home, and has a background and issues that only gradually become revealed. Her mother is going slowly insane, and is compelled to have baby after baby whom she abandons for all intents and purposes once the next one comes along. The other children are just running wild, and Tom, the oldest brother, is struggling with his own demons. While readers will love Megan from the start, it is only through the slow unveiling of the other family members’ tales that they will come to appreciate each person’s place in this troubled home. The novel is told through alternating narratives: Edward, the father, tells his story in first person; Megan and Tom’s tales are told in third person. Compelling and heartbreaking, the work’s conclusion is nothing less than infuriating. Upon reflection, readers will come to accept that this eventuality is very realistic for 1960s small-town women, and for the understanding of mental illness at that time. A great book club choice for older teens, be prepared for impassioned discussion.—Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey