The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

DownloadedFileTitle:  The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

Publisher: Gallery Books; Reprint edition (July 17, 2012)

Pages:  320 pages

Genre:  contemporary women’s fiction

Where did you get it? Purchased in-store at Barnes & Noble.

Why did you read it? My book club chose it for discussion.

What’s it about?  This is a mother/daughter story.  Cam is a single mom raising teenaged Aubrey on her own since her husband left to join a cult.  She has Aubrey’s life pretty well figured out; Aubrey will attend a fantastic liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest, right after her 18th birthday, when she claims the trust fund arranged for her by her father.  But Aubrey has seemingly lost her mind in her senior year of high school.  Once a college bound straight A student and band geek, she’s met a boy and suddenly quit band.    She doesn’t  have any interest in her mother’s plans; the same plans she’s been going along with for years up until now.  Mother and daughter are no longer close and fail to see the other’s point of view.

What did you like?  There was a lot to like!  The book is witty and fun, insightful and smart.   Having two moody teenaged daughters of my own, I could really relate to Cam.  Cam had so many hopes and dreams for Aubrey and just wanted what was best for her.  And that feeling of your child becoming a stranger to you was sadly all too familiar… the feeling of, “Where did I go wrong?”  And how everything you say somehow gets misunderstood.  Yeah, that’s my life.  But having been a teenaged girl once, I could also relate to Aubrey’s feelings of wanting to please her mom, but also wanting her mom to butt out and let her live her life.  I read a lot of lines out loud to my daughter and we laughed a lot.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Cam and Aubrey.  I loved being able to “hear” their distinct voices and really understand where they were coming from.  Cam’s chapters are all in the present, but Aubrey’s reach into the past to give us the backstory.  It wasn’t typical and I liked this approach.

What didn’t work for you?   This is a small thing but at times there was an overabundance of adjectives.  Whenever I would find a particularly adjective-filled line, I’d email it to my friend so we could share a laugh.  There was a point in the book, maybe 2/3rds in, where I became much more interested in Aubrey’s story, and less interested in Cam’s.  Aubrey, like a lot of teenagers, had this whole secret life going on and I wanted to see what she’d do.  Cam’s ex, Aubrey’s dad, made a reappearance, and I found that storyline much less interesting.  I started skipping over the Cam chapters so that I could read Aubrey’s chapters all in a row.  But I did go back and read Cam’s chapters.  And I don’t think my reading of the book suffered by doing it that way.

Share a quote or two:  

“”When did he take over Aubrey’s life so completely?” I ask, even as I try to figure out when my daughter turned into a stranger.  Six months ago?  No, it’s been longer than that.  In that time, she’s become like a guest forced against her will to live in my house.  A guest who would happily pack up and leave and move in with said boyfriend if I pushed her even the tiniest bit.”

“Forget anthrax.  The greatest chemical threat facing our country today is the hormones delivered to our daughters at puberty.  Hormones that, in Aubrey’s case, were not fully ignited until Tyler appeared.”

Who would enjoy this book?  People who enjoy humorous contemporary fiction, those who like mother/daughter stories, those with older teens who are getting ready to lift their wings and leave the nest.

Who else has reviewed it?  Many bloggers have reviewed this book!  Here are a couple of standouts:

Suko’s Notebook

Raging Bibliomania

Anything else to add?  I really enjoyed this book.  The Gap Year was a good choice for my book club as a lot of us have teen daughters, and mother/daughter struggles are somewhat universal.  We had a lot to talk about.  Highly recommended.

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Review and Giveaway: American Rust by Philipp Meyer

American Rust by Philipp Meyer is a contemporary fiction novel set in a dying Pennsylvania steel town, where the largest employer has shut down years before, where few opportunities exist for the town’s youth or the adults who’ve spent their lives slaving away in the steel mills.

Isaac English is a smart but socially awkward young man saddled with the care of his disabled father. Bitter that his sister was able to get out after their mother’s suicide, he finally decides to leave town to make his way to California. Taking his father’s stash of emergency money and throwing some items in a backpack (journals, a jacket) he heads out, asking his one friend Billy Poe to join him in walking the tracks to the outskirts of town where the plan is he’ll jump a train.

Billy Poe is a young man who has used up all his chances. A football star in high school who’s had a couple scrapes with the law, a fight gone wrong, and some missed opportunities.. . now a few years have gone by and here he is, stuck. His glory days are behind him and his future looks bleak. With self doubt holding him back he has stayed behind with his mom in their trailer rather than pursue offers of college scholarships, thinking maybe he’d go away to school in a year or two- well, he realizes now he’s made a big mistake. Nobody wants him anymore and he’s full of regret.

So with no prospects and nothing to lose, Isaac and Billy set off. Before long they encounter a situation with some homeless men on their way out of town that turns violent and changes their lives forever.

Other characters in the book include Billy’s sad and lonely mother, who has had an on again/off again relationship with the chief of police for years; Isaac’s brilliantly stupid sister Lee, a genius and Yale graduate who married into a wealthy family but is still dangerously attracted to Billy Poe; Isaac’s used-up father, a man who favors his daughter and doesn’t realize his deep feelings for his son until it’s almost too late; and the conflicted Chief Harris, a man who means well but whose actions belie his questionable character.

Told from the perspective of all of these characters, this novel does a lot of things very well. Each voice was entirely unique and felt real and raw. Mr. Meyers has created memorable characters that leap off the page, with inner conflicts that are completely relatable. Not only do you want to know what will happen to Billy and Isaac, but you gain a deeper understanding of the complex issues facing towns like the fictional Buell, PA. This economically devastated yet beautiful town was a huge presence in the book. As I was reading, I kept wondering… even if you get out, can you ever escape your past?

American Rust is an excellent debut novel, dark and emotional.  It’s about loyalty, friendship, desperation, and loss.  Mr. Meyers storytelling is compelling and gritty. There is no happy ending here, but if you’re ok with that, this is one I highly recommend.

Random House has generously offered a copy of American Rust as a giveaway to one of my readers as part of it’s TLC Book Tour!  For a chance to win, leave a comment letting me know if you still live in or near your hometown, or if you’ve left it behind. The contest is open until Sunday, February 21, at midnight.

Review: The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti is a contemporary novel that has the feel of a classic.  Set in 19th century New England, it is reminiscent of Mark Twain and Dickens.  It is the story of an orphan boy, the very likeable 12 year old Ren, who is missing a hand but doesn’t know why.  Left at St. Anthony’s Orphanage for Boys as a baby, he longs for a family but knows nothing of his past. 

Told by the monks that he is unadoptable due to his disability, it comes as quite a shock to Ren when Benjamin Nab appears claiming to be his brother.  The orphanage is quick to release Ren after hearing Benjamin’s convincing tale, and the two hit the road on an adventure filled with scams, hustlers, and grave robbers.  

Ren, having never been outside the walls of the orphanage, is both fascinated and leery of Benjamin and his partner in crime, the heavy drinking Tom.  Benjamin is full of fantastical stories that become less and less believable and soon Ren fears he is not who he claims to be, but by this time he has already been sucked in.  Benjamin’s past eventually catches up with him and by the end Ren must decide who he can trust.  

Full of wit, humor, and memorable characters, this is a great book with an authentic feel and a fast moving plot. The subject matter sounds dark, but it doesn’t feel that way at all.  In fact, it is surprisingly lighthearted.  I was fully engrossed in this world of outcasts populated with a dwarf living on the roof, a doctor who buys recently deceased bodies, Ren-the religious crippled orphan boy with a good heart, the cruel owner of a mousetrap factory, a violent giant with a soft spot for Ren, a hard of hearing widowed landlady, and Benjamin, the tall-tale spinning con man.  

This book is really different from anything else I’ve read this year and was a welcome change of pace.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to anyone 14 years and up. 

The Good Thief will release in stores at the end of August and is published by The Dial Press an imprint of Random House. Discussion questions for book clubs can be found HERE at ReadingGroupGuides.com.  I received this ARC from the publisher.  Hannah Tinti has a great website with some questions and answers and an excerpt.  I was amazed to learn that this is her first novel.  See what you think!

For another review, check out this one at The Friendly Book Nook.