I received a free copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.
This is a story about a nontraditional family: an aunt who becomes a parentI received a free copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.
This is a story about a nontraditional family: an aunt who becomes a parent to her two nieces and a nephew when their parents die tragically. It's also a story about searching for identity - through occupation and through relationships. I was mostly captured and charmed by this book. The last few pages brought me to tears (actually, the first couple of chapters did as well), although I admit that earlier the book had a parts where I mentally stepped outside the story because something seemed a little wrong - everything was just "too much". I think that ultimately this book worked well for me because I could relate to the characters because of some of my own life experiences.
Eloise, the aunt in the story, has to leave a very promising career in Boston to move back to Cincinnati to raise her nieces and nephew. She ends up living in the house she grew up in. The story starts with the children all grown up yet living in the same house with Eloise. She is eager for them to move out and start their own lives, so she can have her interrupted life back. She wants to sell the house to provide her a retirement nest egg; her nieces and nephew each have their own reasons for wanting to keep the house. This sets up the central conflict of the story. Tied up in the feelings about the house are the issues of unresolved grief from the loss of parents/siblings which started the story. Theo, the oldest daughter, almost has a PhD in history; she just needs to finish the introduction. She is delaying because completion of her degree means moving on, probably away from Cincinnati, and she is not ready for that. She also is in love with an unattainable colleague of her aunt Eloise. Josh is a charming former member of a moderately successful rock band. He is back in Cincinnati, working a marketing job and trying to avoid moving on with his life. Claire, the baby of the family, is a professional ballerina. At the beginning of the story, she is preparing to move to New York City to start a new phase in her career. All four of the family members struggle with issues of vocation and with relationships in this book.
Now for the parallels with my life - I worked in the east for several years, before moving back to Kansas to the house I grew up in to raise my daughter. (Although in my case, part of the reason for the move was for the love and support of my family - something Eloise does not have as her mother packs ups and moves elsewhere shortly after Eloise moves back home.) I have a strong interest in the roles of aunts filling in for parents, because for the first three years of my daughter's life, while I was living in the east, my sister acted as a co-parent to my daughter. My daughter is a ballet student who just started pointe shoes this year. She's not nearly at the professional level of the two ballet dancers in this story, but the connection still deepened my interest in the story. And I have a cousin who is married to a successful member of a rock band. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a concert this last fall; my brother, sister-in-law, and I were on the VIP list and had special seating reserved for us with my cousin. We felt pretty special that night. This was another layer of connections that made the book work for me. All of these connections actually led me to the biggest moment of disconnection with the book. It's actually a little much to have one sibling of a family be a famous rock star and another a top ballet dancer. When you add the big monstrosity of a house, the whole thing seems a little bit artificial and unrealistic. If I didn't have the many little interconnections with the story, would it work for me?
I hope so, as I grew to love these characters just a little bit. I don't think this is a forever kind of love like I feel for Anne of Green Gables, but it is much more solid than my contemporary book flings with characters like Bentz and Montoya, Sookie Stackhouse, or Virgil Flowers. This book touched my heart, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to continue to follow the family's jobs and relationships in the future. I wanted to know more about Eloise and Rachel, and especially how their mom, Francine, ended up as such a piece of work. I wanted so much to read one of those little epilogues that are always present at the end of the happily-ever-after romance novels. This is always a sign of a well-written book to me; the author was wise enough to leave the characters unfinished and thus wholly human and alive.
This was a dark, odd, quirky story about the Bigtree family, told from alternating points of view. Ava Bigtree provides a first person narrative for mThis was a dark, odd, quirky story about the Bigtree family, told from alternating points of view. Ava Bigtree provides a first person narrative for much of the novel, while her older brother Kiwi's story is told in third person. This is the story of a family living in relative isolation in a remote swampy tourist attraction. Although surrounded by tourists moving in and out of their lives, the family manages to function okay in their relative isolation until the grandfather starts to suffer from dementia and the mother dies of cancer. The family then starts to rapidly unravel.
The Bigtree family is unique and fascinating. It's hard to imagine any family exactly like this, so I'm impressed with the author's creativity. The way one tragedy sends a family into chaos is too easy for me to imagine.
Ava's storyline contains another horrific event that is easy for the reader to predict. I kept reading, hoping I was wrong. I was even very angry with the author for a short period of time...but after considering the whole of the story, I decided that I would be somewhat forgiving, just this once, although I did bump my rating down to 4 stars instead of 5. ...more
This beautiful novel tells how the events of one night change many lives. It also provides some history on the shameful way people with disabilities hThis beautiful novel tells how the events of one night change many lives. It also provides some history on the shameful way people with disabilities have been treated. The story unfolds from the perspectives of four of the main characters. Lynnie,the "beautiful girl", is an adult with developmental disabilities. She has some memories of her older sister Hannah from when she was a child, but she has spent most of her adult life in an institution. She stopped talking after exposure to an early trauma at the institution. Homan became deaf after a childhood fever. Through a series of injustice and accident, he loses the people he is able to communicate. On his own, he drifts from institution to institution, frustrated by his inability to communicate with anyone, until finally he establishes a connection with Lynnie. Martha is the widow whose house provides temporary sanctuary for Lynnie and Homan the night they run away, and provides permanent sanctuary for Lynnie's daughter Julia. Kate is the counselor and advocate who helps Lynnie move on with her life when she is brought alone back to the institution. Lynnie and Homan struggle throughout the book to find their voices and each other. Kate and Martha are both positively changed by their interactions with Lynnie and Homan.
This book is probably closer to 4.5 stars than 4, but it did have some imperfections that kept me from giving it 5 stars. In the middle portion of the book, I had some difficulty with the way the points of views shifted; it felt awkward at times. I also would have liked to have some more insight into Julia. The story skips from a seriously troubled teen Julia to an adult, almost divorced mother...I would like to know more about how she survived the loss of Martha and the lack of knowledge of her own parents. ...more