Wednesday, March 31, 2010

how to relate to your teenage daughter

Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Review: It's not often that one wishes a book were longer than it is, but I almost wish there was just a little bit more to this one. After her teenage daughter storms out of the house, Laura sets about writing her a letter in which she hopes to explain that she really does understand what it's like to be a teenager. Bishop manages to pack a lot of emotional depth into this story, while keeping the prose very direct and free of frills.

But I do wish the story had been extended just a bit. It's evident that Laura manages to salvage some kind of relationship with her parents; how did that come about? What happened after Laura graduated high school? How did she meet the man we know only as "your father," who is clearly not the boyfriend of Laura's teenage years, but with whom she seems to have a good marriage? It is one thing to let your daughter in on the secret that you were once a teenager too and can understand what she’s going through, but this story might have benefited if Laura were also able to let her daughter see the light at the end of the teenager-tunnel.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Monday, March 15, 2010

making it personal

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: This is a sweet book, though it's not without some drama and darkness. At just the right time in her life, Joy Harkness gets an unexpected job offer that takes her from a prestigious but unsatisfying job at Columbia University to an equally prestigious job in the small college town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Leaving behind a life devoid of personal connections, she suddenly finds herself thrust into the social framework of her new home.

Joy’s lack of personal past seems at many points in the narrative to be little more than a plot device to set up the “second chance” that she suddenly has in her new home. After all, if we didn’t know that she was a social outsider at Columbia, it wouldn’t make sense for her to behave in such a socially awkward way at Amherst. Except it still doesn’t make sense, because although she initially rebuffs many social efforts from her colleagues, she seems to have no problem forming a relationship with the handyman who fixes up her new house. That inconsistency undercuts much of the tension that might otherwise be present as she is forced to reconsider her life in social terms.

Fortunately, for both Joy and the reader, her new colleagues are fairly insistent that she not hold herself apart any longer, and the story that unfolds is quite touching. If many of the secondary characters seem flat, it is because their purpose is really to shine a spotlight on Joy and the changes she is experiencing. Meier generally succeeds in giving us a readable and enjoyable story and avoids the saccharine by achieving an ending that is not happy in the usual sense, but is certainly satisfying and hopeful.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.