Review: Goldengrove by Francine Prose

Goldengrove-PB-199x300Goldengrove by Francine Prose is a tender examination of a young girl’s grief over the loss of her beloved older sister, Margaret.

Margaret is a dreamer, a lover of old movies, a poet and singer.  Nico and Margaret are sisters and co-conspirators, finding ways for Margaret and her boyfriend Aaron to be together behind their parents’ backs.  With summer coming up, the last summer the sisters will be together before Margaret goes off to college, they are looking forward to spending time together.  One warm spring day, Margaret and Nico take a rowboat out on the lake.  Margaret, smoking cigarettes and talking to 13 year old Nico about boys and sex, stands and gives Nico a final salute before diving into the water and heading for shore.  Except, she never gets there.  Margaret drowns in the lake, and life for her family is never the same.

“What had we talked about before?  Margaret had done all the talking.  Now there was nothing to say.  We were the wallflowers left behind when Margaret waltzed away.”

Margaret’s death is a minor tragedy in their small upstate New York community, but completely devastating for her family.  Her dad loses himself in his writing project, and her mom self medicates with alcohol.  Nico is mostly forgotten and ignored, although as their One Remaining Child, they do set down some rules and safety guidelines for her that sometimes seem a bit extreme.  At one point she wants to tell Margaret how goofy her parents are behaving, but then remembers the reason they are acting that way.  While her parents are distracted, Nico goes through every stage of grief.  Consumed by thoughts of Margaret, she must learn to cope with her loss.

Nico helps her dad at his bookstore, Goldengrove, and during slow times she reads up on heart conditions, fearing she has the same physical ailments Margaret had.  She also begins secretly hanging out with Aaron, becoming partners in grief with her sister’s lover. She believes he is the only one who understands what she’s going through, and being with him makes her feel normal again.  But his reasons for wanting to spend time together are different than hers; he wants to turn her into Margaret and doesn’t see her for the young, naive girl she actually is.

The majority of the story takes place during the summer after Margaret’s death; all of it, actually, except the last 4 or 5 pages.  This would be my only quibble with the book- the ending, with Nico as an adult, felt kind of tacked on, detached, and unnecessary. However, even with the quickie ending, this is realistic fiction at it’s finest.

Francine Prose has written a piece of art, a mournful yet exquisite novel that was an absolute pleasure to read.  She is amazingly talented and I am thrilled to have discovered this new-to-me author.  I’d highly recommend Goldengrove to anyone who enjoys beautiful writing, coming of age stories, or family drama.

Goldengrove is Francine Prose’s 15th novel.


For other stops on this blog tour, check out the TLC Book Tours schedule.

Listen to Francine Prose discuss Goldengrove with Book Club Girl on Blog Talk Radio on Air.

Review: One Perfect Day by Lauraine Snelling

51sk2b7tptl_sl500_aa240_ One Perfect Day by Lauraine Snelling 

Two mothers are preparing for what could be the last Christmas with their families intact.  Nora’s teenage twins will be heading off to college next year, while Jenna’s daughter, Heather, is on a transplant list waiting for a new heart.  

Nora, the ultimate Christian mom, gets up each day to do her devotions and write in her journal.  Everything in her home is just so.  The decorations, the gifts, the food- she is preparing for the perfect Christmas.  The only thing out of place is that her husband is away on a business trip. 

Jenna, a single Christian mom who lost her husband in Desert Storm when Heather was a baby, works nights in the ER.  She tries to make everything perfect for what could be Heather’s last Christmas, hiding her tears behind closed doors.  Heather, a young adult who has been treated like a much younger child due to her infirmaries, is a great kid but would like her mom to talk honestly with her about her fears and her future. 

Things abruptly change as a tragedy on a stormy night brings these two families together, though they never actually meet.  God is with both families as one deals with heartbreak and the other cautiously begins to hope and plan for a future. Nora slides into depression as her family and friends attempt to pull her out of it.  Jenna, always thinking of the other mother, feels some guilt over their good fortune.  She is publicly optimistic but privately terrified that Heather’s body will reject her new heart. 

There is joy, though, for Jenna, as she watches Heather become stronger, do things for herself, meet a boy, make new friends, plan ahead.  And there is a budding relationship for her too, as she moves from the caretaker role in a child centered home to a time when she can think about having a life of her own.  

Nora initially rejects the support of family and friends and the comfort of her church, retreating to her bed and sleeping the days away.  She is unable to help her family through their grief and heartache because her pain is too raw.  But she has the unfailing love and devotion of the family dog, who needs her to get up out of bed to let her out and feed her, and who just wants to be near her without demanding anything in return.  The dog was my favorite character in the book!

Each year I try to read one seasonal book during the holidays, although Christian fiction isn’t something I normally read as I generally find it too preachy and sappy. One Perfect Day isn’t either of those things.  The way the family members react to their circumstances is realistic and emotional.  I found the book to be very positive and inspirational and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good family story.  

Big thanks to Miriam at Hachette Book Group for sending me this novel to review.

Review: The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood

The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood is a beautiful book about a painful subject. Mary Baxter and her husband, Dylan, are shell shocked after their only daughter, 5 year old Stella, dies suddenly and unexpectedly from bacterial meningitis.  In the months of grief that follow, Mary’s relationships are faltering; she stops going to work, struggles to communicate with her husband, can barely speak to her mother.  This is the story of how Mary learns to live again.

At the urging of her mother, Mary joins a knitting circle.  She finds knitting therapeutic and distracting, just what she needs.  She begins to learn more about the other people in the circle and all the reasons they are there, reasons that include suffering, tragedy, and loss. 

But I don’t want you to think this is a story to avoid because it’s too sad.  It IS sad, but it’s also inspiring, and shows the restorative power of friendship and reaching out to others.. how sharing our pain can lighten the load.  It is a heartfelt story of hope that I read in 2 sittings, stopping only to sleep and eat. 

Hood, who lost her own daughter to a virulent strain of strep (also at age 5), writes from heartbreaking personal experience.  The novel rings so true, and I ached for Mary (and also for Ms. Hood) as she went from the depths of her grief to the beginnings of healing. This book is wonderful and I highly recommend it.

Visit Ann Hood’s website HERE