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The Lauras

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I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong.

As we made our way from Virginia to California, returning to the places where she’d lived as a child in foster care and as a teenager on the run, repaying debts and keeping promises, I learned who she was in her life-before-me and the secrets she had kept – even from herself. But when life on the road began to feel normal I couldn’t forget the home we’d left behind, couldn’t deny that, just like my mother, I too had unfinished business.

This enigmatic pilgrimage takes them back to various stages of Alex’s mother’s life, each new state prompting stories and secrets. Together they trace back through a life of struggle and adventure to put to rest unfinished business, to heal old wounds and to search out lost friends. This is an extraordinary story of a life; a stunning exploration of identity and an authentic study of the relationship between a mother and her child.

The Lauras is the new novel from the exceptionally gifted author of The Shore, which was long listed for the Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published August 4, 2016

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About the author

Sara Taylor

3 books196 followers
Sara Taylor is a product of the United States and the homeschooling movement. She traded her health for a BFA from Randolph College, and her sanity for an MA in Prose Fiction from the University of East Anglia. Following the MA her supervisor refused to let her leave, so she remains at the UEA to chip away at a double-focus PhD in censorship and fiction. She spends an unprecedented amount of time on delayed trains between Norwich and her husband's house in Reading, and tends to get lost, rained on, and chased by cows with unsettling frequency. Her first novel, The Shore, was published by Random House in 2015.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 373 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
July 23, 2017
This was a difficult review to write in some ways. The main character, Alex is a transgender teen and we never know, even by the end of the book, whether Alex is a boy or a girl, so I can't refer to Alex as he or she so I will say he/she. Actually it really didn't matter because Alex is a person I came to care about exactly as Alex was. But the hard part really was deciding on a rating. I had a problem with the parental judgement of Alex's mother, Ma, who rouses Alex out of bed one night, leaving her husband and Alex's father to go on a road trip from state to state and into Canada over several years. It was disturbing to me not knowing why the mother left Alex's father and not knowing what this pilgrimage of sorts was about. I wondered at times if Ma considered the impact of this vagabond life on Alex as she confronted the demons of her past, paying her debts, keeping her promises. Alex is the narrator, who as an adult tells how 30 years ago he/she left West Virginia in the middle of the night with Ma. On the road it's the mother's journey through her past , but slowly it becomes Alex's journey as well, seeking a future, an identity, enduring brutal bullying at times and a thing no child should suffer through.

It was hard to read at times knowing Alex's loneliness as they move from place to place, living in crummy little apartments. However, I couldn't help but be broken hearted when we learn of Ma's past . She had parents who didn't know how to parent and she was in and out of foster care. Yes, there are a number of Lauras in her life, some of whom we meet and a few other people we wish she hadn't met. I couldn't help but feel for her and I never questioned her love for Alex as he/she never did. So I couldn't let a decision I didn't agree with affect my rating because there is so much ground covered here and no pun is intended. There are some sad moments and some that are horrifying, but there are poignant moments seeing some things that Alex learns along the way. I loved Alex's concern for his/her father and the postcards that are sent along the way to let his/her father know that things are okay.

This book is not as gritty as Sara Taylor's collection of stories, The Shore, but this definitely has an edge to it . I found here writing that drew me in as it did in the short stories. It's a coming of age story, a story of redemption and one that reflects the love of a mother for her child and one that delves into the core of people's identities and where they belong. I ended up loving this story.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Crown Publishing through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Deanna .
664 reviews12.4k followers
September 8, 2017
3.5 Stars

My reviews can also be seen at: https://deesradreadsandreviews.wordpr...

Thirteen year old, Alex is used to hearing parents fighting at night. Alex could always tell when a fight was coming and would always stay awake until everything calmed down. But everything changes on a night when the fight breaks off midway.

"Get up, Alex. Now"

Alex's mom comes in and pulls Alex right from bed and settles them both into the car with nothing more than the comforter from Alex's bed and the packed backpack that was sat by the door for years. Alex knows not to ask any questions and is quiet as mother drives away.

And here starts a journey that takes place over a three-year span as mother and child travel all across America and even into Canada. Even years later, Alex can clearly remember the moment they left home and how Alex knew that life was never going to be the same.

"The tipping feeling, of everything I knew and thought and trusted being pulled out from under me, has stayed with me for thirty-odd years, as if she branded it into my skin with her fingertips when she dragged me out of the house."

Alex's mother was never very open about her past. Alex was aware of a few things, like the fact that she had been in foster homes, but other than that she had been very tight-lipped. So Alex is happy when mother starts to share stories and details about her past - this includes stories about the "Laura's" she met over the years.

I did have a few issues with Alex's mom's parenting. At times she seemed almost cold to Alex, but then something would happen that made me realize just how much she had Alex's back. She never judged and was completely supportive of Alex. It made me wish that more parents would be as respectful of their children.

I found the beginning of the novel gripping, then it stalled on me for a little while. However, about halfway through something happened that pulled me right back into the story. I was intrigued to see where things were going to go. In the end this was an enjoyable read. I found myself quite invested in the characters and the story-line.

THE LAURAS was a well-written and interesting read. A kind of coming of age story for both mother and child. The novel deals with a lot of important issues including relationships, sexuality, bullying, parenting and much more. I look forward to reading more from Sara Taylor.

Thank you NetGalley and Hogarth Press for providing an advanced readers copy of this book for me to read in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,338 followers
August 15, 2017
3.5 stars. What an odd book The Lauras is. I really liked many parts of it. The story is essentially a road trip told through teenage Alex's voice. Alex -- who we eventually find out does not identify as a boy or girl -- goes on a two year road trip with Alex's mother. Along the way, Alex's mother pieces together her life for Alex. There are many stories spliced together, and separately many of them held my attention. Both Alex and Alex's mother have had more than their fair share of gritty heartbreaking experiences. But I wouldn't describe The Lauras as heartbreaking. Somehow Alex and mother have strength and resilience in spades. Taylor is a skilful writer and she clearly loves to push many boundaries. My minor complaint is that at times it felt like she was trying to fold too many identity issues into this fairly short book. I liked Alex. I even liked the mother who could be quite harsh. But at times they lost their dimension as characters and seemed to become vehicles for identity politics. Again, this is a relatively minor complaint. Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Lauras. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,603 reviews2,575 followers
November 1, 2020
On the Road with Ma: Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist review #1

(I am on the official shadow panel of book bloggers.)

Sara Taylor’s debut, The Shore, was a gritty and virtuosic novel-in-13-stories that imagined 250 years of history on a set of islands off the coast of Virginia. It was one of my favorite books of 2015, and earned Taylor a spot on that year’s Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist as well as the Baileys Prize longlist. Her second book is a whole different kettle of fish: a fairly straightforward record of an extended North American road trip that 13-year-old Alex took with his/her mother 30 years ago.

Alex and Ma have run off from their home in Virginia and left Alex’s father behind. They travel, seemingly at random, all over – North Carolina, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, California – stopping for weeks at a time for Ma to earn enough to move on again. On the way they visit various sites from Ma’s past, mostly foster homes where she lived as a runaway teen and made fleeting connections with friends and lovers. Her five best friends were all apparently named Laura. Sometimes it seems Ma is after revenge; other times she’s making amends for mistakes from her past or attending to unfinished business. One thing gradually becomes clear: this is no arbitrary journey but a quest with a destination. It even has a Harold Fry element, though Taylor avoids Rachel Joyce’s schmaltz.

The Lauras is more complex than your average coming-of-age tale, largely because of Alex’s deliberate androgyny: a whole novel passes without us figuring out whether the narrator is male or female. “I suppose I was forgettable, came across still as whichever gender a person expected to see … being either and neither and both at once fit me more closely than the other options on offer,” Alex writes. But this chosen indeterminateness is not without consequences: there are a couple of disturbing scenes of bullying and sexual assault.

I enjoyed the mother-and-teen banter and the depiction of characters who are restless and rootless, driven on by traumatic memories as much as by uncertainty about the future. However, I had a few problems with the book. A road trip is generally a fun fictional setup, but here it tends towards the episodic and the repetitive. Moreover, Ma’s past is generally conveyed by secondhand stories rendered in Alex’s voice, which subordinates Ma’s perspective to her child’s and relies on somewhat dull reportage. Also, the metaphorical language and level of psychological understanding seem too advanced for a young teen, which only emphasizes the disjunction between the events being recounted (perhaps from the 1990s?) and the supposed present day three decades later. Those niggles explain why I abandoned this book a third of the way through on my first attempt in December 2016, and why, for me at least, it overall pales in comparison with the originality of The Shore.

I’m still a huge fan of Sara Taylor’s work and look forward to her next book; were this to be the consensus of the rest of the shadow panel I would happily recognize it, but it’s unlikely to be among my top few.

Postscript: Taylor and I have a few neat connections: she graduated from Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon Women’s College), whose study abroad program in Reading, England brought me over here for the first time, and when not working on her PhD at UEA lives with her husband in Reading. Plus a tiny mention from The Lauras made me cheer: Ma went to Hood College, my alma mater!

Originally published, with images, on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Dash fan .
1,464 reviews706 followers
April 7, 2017
I started off reading this book however it really wasn't for me. I didn't feel the book was engaging enough and I didn't feel that it kept my attention.
The road trip and enlightenment was a good concept I just felt it went on a bit too long.
Alex was an interesting character not knowing her sexuality kept the reader guessing but I didn't feel it was enough.
I have rated 3 stars due to my own struggle with the storyline.
I wouldn't discourage anyone not to read this book as it is just my personal opinion.

I received this book from the Publisher in exchange for a honest and fair review via Netgalley.
Profile Image for ♥ Sandi ❣	.
1,271 reviews8 followers
July 29, 2017
Starts as a middle of the night road trip - mother and child are on an adventure. It becomes apparent that the Mother - referred to as Ma throughout the book - is looking to make amends or fulfill promises that she had made in her earlier years and is dragging Alex with her. As the road trip takes them through Florida, Georgia, Nevada, California, and into Vancouver they are engaged in fist-fights, kidnapping, breaking and entering, and arson. And that is just Ma's given allotment to this journey.

Alex is 14 years old. Alex is gender neutral. A quote from the story sums up Alex's feelings very well. "So all was good in my queer little world until a group decided that, if they couldn’t get me to cop to what variety of crotch giblets I was keeping in my pants, the next best thing would be to catch me naked." Refusing to be labeled or "put in a box" but harassed in school and refusing to state a specific gender, Alex is caught in a handicapped bathroom by a number of fellow students and roughed up while being disrobed. This has a dramatic effect on both Alex and Ma.

I felt there were some good parts to this story and also some odd twists in the authors wording that gave me pause, and made me reread passages, finding that a couple of times statements made no sense, not even by tying into the story at a later time. There were also a few time-line slip ups. An example of that is when the story stated that Ma slept until "3 pm in the afternoon, then moved around groggily for awhile" but then just a few paragraphs later stated that "finally at 1 pm Ma began to pack up her things" . Due to these above stated reasons, and others like them, I felt a bit disconnected at times and did not feel that overall the story flowed as well as it could have.

Thank you to Penguin First -to-Read and Hogarth Crown Publishing for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this novel.
Profile Image for Tara.
Author 22 books543 followers
January 21, 2022
This was in the remainder bin, and I'm so glad I picked it up and got introduced to Sara Taylor. I'll be reading her story collection THE SHORE for sure.

I had trouble at first getting into the story and characters (mother and teen), then as the novel progressed I became engrossed with the mystery behind the Lauras and the road trip and how these two survive the open road and small towns or cities they stop in. What's especially rewarding is the nontraditional relationship between the mother and her androgynous child and their growing adult bond. This pulled me along with it, though the ending for me didn't seem quite finished. She even sort of warns or prepares the reader for this on p. 211:

"Life so often goes flabby and peters out at the finish point instead of clicking satisfyingly, like the sound of a box being shut. That's why we read, and watch, and listen, because we want that click and life never hands it over."

I love this metaphor. It's spot on. No box click on this one. Still, a worthwhile read with some beautiful prose.

(trigger warnings: scene of forced abuse and attempted sexual assault)
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,742 reviews2,268 followers
January 22, 2022

3.75 Stars

”Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” --- Matsuo Basho

They make their way through the back roads of Alex’s mother’s past, her years in foster care had been spent moving around, passed from family to family. Her teen years spent running from the past and from everyone and everything. Trying to find a place where the pain can’t reach her. And now she’s trying to track down her past, find it and stare it in the face and see if it recognizes her, dragging thirteen year-old Alex along after yet another argument with Alex’s father.

”I knew the vagaries of her life—the foster homes and that she had a green card, the fact that she hadn’t spoken to her parents since she was a teenager—but it wasn’t until we left home that she began writing in the details. Maybe she began telling me then because she felt guilt, or whatever her version of guilt was, over hearing and taking me with her and not explaining anything. Maybe the stories had finally backed up in her and she had to let them out.”

For Alex, this will be a road trip against which all future road trips will be measured. Family stories spill out along the way, family secrets, stories of his grandparents, her friends, adventures and all the things in her life up until this point, everything that has them poised for a new understanding of the future. Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Texas. Reno. Davis, California, Even Canada. Visiting all these places Ma has been, people she has known, including the memorable Lauras, five of them that she has known in her life since before Alex.

The mother-child bond is a strong factor in life, and in this novel, as well. It really is the heart of this novel. There are already so many people in Alex’s life that stare with veiled hostility or curiosity, so many who want to figure out who Alex is, put a label on a person. So few who accept Alex without question, but Ma does.

"It's bothered me for as long as I can remember, the way the human compulsion to classify stands at odds with my feeling of falling outside the available categories ... Everyone seemed determined to put me into a box that I had no interest being in."

This story covers many themes, there’s a sense of eternal wanderlust that permeates this, identity and gender identity, there’s the theme of the bond between Ma and Alex, mother and child, and the bond of friendship, the bond of promises, making them and keeping them. The theme of Home.
I loved the teasing, push / pull relationship between Alex and Ma. I loved their similarities and how that both divided them at times, and added understanding of each other at other times. There was always a level of comfort there between them, unafraid to share their feelings, their stories.

Alex is the narrator, sharing the memories of those years when they went in search of The Lauras, a pivotal year for Alex and for Ma. The story told through a hazy wistfulness of that time, a time where they both learned so much about love, each other and where our heart calls home.

Published: 1 Aug 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Crown Publishing / Hogarth
Profile Image for Marjorie.
544 reviews56 followers
March 23, 2017
13-year-old Alex’s mother is getting restless and tired of the endless arguments with Alex’s father. When she decides to take a road trip into her past, she takes Alex with her. As they travel together, the mother begins to share stories of her past. This is the first time that Alex feels the start of knowing anything about her.

I was very impressed by this author’s use of language in her first novel, “The Shore”, for which she won the Baileys Women’s Prize. She has again impressed me with her newest book, although I don’t feel it was quite as good as her first. That’s not to say that I don’t recommend it because I most definitely do recommend it. I just enjoyed the subject matter of “The Shore” a bit more. The author is very talented. This book is basically just a trip through the mother’s past that she opens up to her child as she tries to set right some past wrongs, visit old friends and find some healing. While there’s not a very complicated plot, the author makes it such an interesting read. I felt like I was sitting in the back seat and taking this road trip right along with them.

There was an interesting take on Alex. Alex could be a boy or Alex could be a girl. Alex isn’t telling. Alex doesn’t believe in gender and hasn’t quite decided which direction he/she will be headed. The sexual awakening of this young person is handled in a very realistic manner and yet quite sensitively.

Here’s an example of one of the literary finds in this book, though keep in mind that I read an ARC of the book and this may be changed in the final edition. “We were caught on the thin, hungry edge of the morning, before the sun sliced itself open on the horizon and bled out across the sky.” I really enjoy the writing style of this author and am already looking forward to her next book, which I hope will be soon.


This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Leilah Skelton.
152 reviews38 followers
August 21, 2016
The Shore blew me away with its mind-bending timeframe and interlaced magical realism, so I was keen to see if I’d be won over by a much more straightforward, road-trippy kind of novel from Sara Taylor. No magical bells or future vision whistles. 300-ish pages of a mother and a child and the open road. Boom. Straightforward, right? Well, no. And my goodness, the ride I’ve just been taken on…

Alex is barrelling on through puberty, self-identity and state lines, and Ma is gradually sketching out the route of her own pre-Alex life – reflecting back whilst moving the both of them forward. Their relationship is relayed as much in their silences as their words, and it is delicate and brutal and beautiful and solid all at once.

The descriptions of place are phenomenal, and Taylor has a real skill for language that allows the reader to identify deeply with situations and emotions that are often uncomfortable or painful to think on. Very much like The Shore, The Lauras is pouring honey in your ears whilst massaging your bruises. She takes you on a walk in shoes you probably never imagined your feet would fit into, and whether pleasurable or painful, it’s an absolute given that Taylor’s going to make you feel something.
Profile Image for Darque  Dreamer .
371 reviews47 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
September 6, 2017
(DNF) Spoilers Ahead:

The synopsis for this book really drew me in. I was hopeful for a self-discovery/ coming of age story for Alex (13-14 years old) and Alex's mother. The first 50 pages were beginning to offer just what I was looking for. Unfortunately, when I reached pages 55-57, I could not finish the book.

Of what I read so far, I found out that Alex's mother dragged Alex out of bed, in the middle of the night, to take off after a fight with Alex's father. The two drove for a while and decided to stop at a road side diner and motel. Alex 's mother picked up a waitressing job, leaving Alex alone during the day. Before Alex's mother had decided to take the job and stay, Alex had snuck over to the post office and sent a cryptic postcard to their father letting him know that Alex and Alex's mother were alright. After about 3 months of living there, the cops showed up. Was it because of the postcard? No one knows, but Alex assumed.

So, they took off again and Alex's mother found a run down apartment to rent, and decided to stay and put Alex back in school. It is here we I saw the beginnings of Alex's coming age. Alex admitted that they had never quite felt like a boy or a girl, leading me to believe Alex to be gender fluid (which is great by the way, since we are only beginning to see gender fluid characters in literature). Alex started having self-discovery feelings of desire that they tried to address (again, part of coming of age as a teenager). Up until now, the story had been intriguing and interesting.

It was when Alex decided to take off by themself to take a bus to another location so they could send their father another postcard when the story started to go downhill for me. Alex kept addressing feelings of wanting to go back with their father and not knowing why their mother practically kidnapped them with no explanation. They sent their postcard, and ended up having to hitchhike back to the apartment. Alex's first ride was a pleasant one with a caring woman. The second one is where I could not continue.

(Rape Trigger Warning)

Alex gets in a car with an older man, who proceeds to pull his genitals out of his pants. He locks Alex in the car and pretty much forces them (Alex being only 14 I believe) to perform oral sex. The writer went in to graphic detail about the entire scene, and it made me sick to my stomach.

So that scene, along with the fact that Alex's mom pretty much kidnapped them, and had apparently been planning it for a while, with no explanation, just turned me off of the story. That graphic scene has made me not want to read anything further. The author had a great writing style, and I was drawn in for the first 50 pages, despite feeling awkward about the "kidnap", but I did not agree with the choice to describe the forced oral sex scene.

This is my personal preference and opinion that I do not enjoy scenes like this. If you have read this and enjoyed it, I would love to hear your thoughts! I had thought about continuing past the scene, but I was so turned off by it, I just can't bring myself to keep reading. Let me know in the comments if you would have DNF'd a book after a scene like that too.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with this free review copy in exchange for my honest review!
Profile Image for Jordan.
106 reviews9 followers
December 27, 2016
I'm a little bit conflicted on how to rate and review The Lauras because, for one thing, I think it's a bit better than a four star rating although not quite a four, if that makes any sense at all, so I guess the right thing to do would be to round up and give it four stars since half a star isn't an option. I really did enjoy this book quite a bit and again, this was a book that I went into without any knowledge of what it was about, if it had received positive ratings and reviews, and I'd never before read anything by this author- all though, I have heard really great things on Goodreads about the debut novel by Sara Taylor, The Shore so I definitely plan to read that one soon. This was a good book, it held my attention, was well written, I enjoyed the storyline and the characters and it was a quick- less than 24 hr - read, however, I did have a couple issues with this book and was left with unanswered questions upon finishing it and nothing frustrates me more than a stand alone book that leaves me confused and/or hanging. I'll get to that shortly, in this review, but first let me give you a brief summary...
The Lauras was about a teenage named Alex whose free spirited Mother takes off in the middle of the night from their family home, leaving her husband and brings Alex along for an extensive road trip around the country. During the trip Alex's mother reveals details about herself and her past and tells the stories of The Laura's" dear friends that she met throughout different points in her childhood and teenage years, all sharing the same name and leaving a major impact. This novel describes the troubles and triumphs of their journey both for Alex as and individual and the relationship between mother and child. It's definitely a coming of age type of novel that illustrates gaining strength from ones struggles and embracing individuality while being true to oneself in the face of diversity. It had a great message and it was raw, unapologetic and realistic to life in this day and age and it touched on issues with parenting, relationships and sexuality that most authors don't go near so I really enjoyed and appreciated that. It's difficult to say a lot more about this book, or express my complaints and questions about the storyline, without including spoilers in this review, something i usually don't do however, in this case I'm going to make an exception so if you haven't read this book yet than stop reading this review now!
**Spoiler Alert**

So anyway, aside from those two issues I really enjoyed this book a lot and I highly recommend it. It would have easily been a four or five star rating were it not for those two minor complaints but I still think the book deserves 3.5 and since that's not an option I'll give four by default. It was a really interesting story with captivating characters and a unique plot

I received a copy of this publication from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Ann (Inky Labyrinth).
173 reviews147 followers
January 1, 2021
In the middle of the night, Alex’s mother wakes up her thirteen-year-old them up and tells them that it’s time to go. Walking sleepily to the car, Alex never imagines that they won’t return. But alas, so begins their cross-country journey--mother and child, their whole life stuffed in a sedan.

As they drive, the mother reluctantly describes to Alex the pieces of the puzzle of her youth; retracing her steps from years ago, state by state.

The destinations and stopping points are not simply cities of interest, or tourist-y landmarks, but rather places where Alex’s mom once lived, in and out of the foster care system. At almost every stop, one of a series of women from the mother’s life (most of which are “coincidentally” named Laura) is revealed. And with it, another piece for Alex to use to fill in their mom’s unknown past.

She learned to blend in, to fade into the foreground, killed her accent so that she didn't stick out, but every new English word took her farther from her parents and the country where she had been born. She wedged herself into an in-between space: not American [...] not Sicilian [...] but eternally other, so that she could only be comfortable when no one expected her to belong.

At its heart, The Lauras is a road trip story, but merely calling it that is ignoring the many layers hidden beneath its plot. An older Alex, who is non-binary and (from what I gather) pansexual, narrates these few years from an unknown future. The “road trip” lasts a lot longer than mother or child intended, as they grudgingly make their way across the country, seeking a new beginning.

’So, is this home for now?’ I asked.
[...] ‘Nah. Home’s a long way away still. But we’ll get there.’

This novel has that unnameable quality that causes one to positively devour a book. I didn’t even mean to start it the first place at the time, but it was calling out to me on my iPad. It might have just been the right time for me, but I fell in love with Taylor’s prose, the pacing of the story, the distinct personality of each “Laura”. A thought-provoking, amazing story.

I was able to find a lot of similarities between teenage Alex and myself. Nature was Alex’s sanctuary on the road. No matter how horrid their living conditions were, Alex managed to find a place of retreat whether it was the beach, the mountains, or anything in between. I, too, take much comfort being in the forest, where it's quiet and just away from everything else.

Unlike Alex, though, I would love to live a life where I wake up in a different place everyday, were I able to. So far in my 28 trips around the sun, I have driven across the entire continental U.S. three and a half times, each time taking a slightly different route. The feeling of being on the road, with a destination in mind but not being in a rush...it's the closest I have ever felt to being truly free. Alex's mother understands this feeling, and Sara Taylor has captured the up's and down's of living on the road so very eloquently.

One of my favorite parts was discovering a little hidden gem from the author: a stop in Gilead, Texas, which is a place that doesn’t actually exist! I was delighted to find this nod to The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ll leave you to figure out how it connects on your own, if you choose to read this delightful and thoughtful novel. Perhaps I can entice you with a few more quotes...

I wanted to be the sort of person that would dive in after her, the sort of person that welcomed the unfathomable depths without needing to understand them. I wanted to be my mother, in that moment. I knew that I was not.

People went on and on about how unique their part of the country was, and while the landscape had changed as we went it had still been Wal-Marts and McDonald’s from sea to shining sea.

4.5//5 stars

A million thank you's to HOGARTH for sending me this eARC long ago, via NetGalley.


Initial thoughts: I can’t believe how fast I read this, and I didn’t even really mean to start it in the first place!🤣 It was calling to me.
A really fantastic story for a fairly new author (who I will definitely read again.) I forgot how much I loved road trip stories. And a gender-less (pansexual?) narrator who speaks very well was unique and enjoyable.

More thoughts after I catch up on other reviews!
Profile Image for Richard Moss.
466 reviews9 followers
January 8, 2018
The premise appears a familiar one. The Lauras is effectively a road movie on the page, as we follow Alex and her mother's journey across the US, in what becomes a quest of sorts.

Alex, who narrates though, is ungendered. You won't find personal pronouns here. This is a teenager also trying to navigate a way through the complications of identity.

That could have made this novel gimmicky, but it is testament to Sara Taylor's skill that it never feels that clumsy.

Alex and Ma hit the road after a family row, but Ma has a plan - a map of places to visit connected to her past. The Lauras in the title are a series of women who played a part in Ma's fractured upbringing in and out of care, who coincidentally all apparently have the same name.

The Lauras reminded me a little of the movie American Honey, not in its storyline but in the way it visits parts of America you never usually see or read about.

Ma and Alex sometimes stay for months in one place as they gather resources, but the road is always waiting as they head for an unknown destination.

Through this Alex is trying to establish an identity, and get the world to accept it. This involves confusing emotions and turmoil, but perhaps in that way Alex has something in common with most teenagers.

What I found refreshing though is that despite tensions between Alex and Ma on other fronts, there is no division over identity. Ma is Alex's strongest champion, and the novel is a touching account of a strong mother-child relationship.

This is Sara Taylor's second novel, but it is extremely assured, and there is some really terrific unfussy and insightful writing.

There are difficult moments to negotiate - there is a transgressive, uncomfortable sex scene, and in addition Alex (like many teenagers) has developed an interest in masturbation that Taylor doesn't shy away from.

There is perhaps some contrivance in maintaining Alex's genderlessness for the reader, but no little skill either. I've struggled enough in this review, so managing it at novel-length is quite a feat.

But overall this is a moving, engaging and insightful novel that I would heartily recommend.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
665 reviews3,234 followers
August 4, 2016
I was thrilled to receive Sara Taylor's new novel “The Lauras” which is a very different kind of book from her last novel "The Shore" but maintains her distinctly engrossing and insightful style of writing. It’s somewhat challenging to write about it because the novel’s narrator Alex, who is thirteen years old at the book’s beginning, doesn’t live as one gender or another. So it just presents a technical challenge where I have to use the joint pronouns she/he when referring to Alex. (This isn’t the novel’s fault but shows how gender divisions are so ingrained in our culture and language.) The novel begins when Alex is abruptly woken in the night by her/his parents’ fighting - unfortunately this isn’t unusual in Alex’s experience. But this time Alex’s mother comes into her/his room and abruptly takes Alex with her to run away. They embark on a journey across country which takes a number of years as Alex’s mother concludes unsettled business from her chequered past and forges new relationships. Meanwhile, Alex grows into an independent individual by making connections with a broad spectrum of people and experiencing adventures for her/himself. So this novel is a thrilling road trip story about a mother and her child on the run. It also says something deeply compelling about how we form fictitious and factual tales about our lives, challenges conventional notions about identity and how we define the concept of home.

Read my full review of The Lauras by Sara Taylor on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Andy Weston.
2,424 reviews147 followers
March 12, 2017
Time to delve into a couple of the long list for the Baileys Women Fiction Prize, and certainly this was a rewarding start.

It's a coming of age - roadtrip novel told in the first person, but is about a lot more; prejudice, gender, sexuality and independence.

13 year old Alex is taken from bed late one night by the mother (Ma) who has had one too many differences of opinion with her husband, and thus embarks a trip around America so that 'Ma' can deal with various ongoing issues from her earlier life. Most of these involve someone called Laura, and hence the title.

As with many of the best novels certain passages stand out and will stay with the reader. Probably most of all the incident when Alex hitchhikes back from Alabama, but

It's a very enjoyable novel in many ways - it's very different and though I think the period it is set in is pre-internet it is very relevant to today's society. It also doesn't shy away from adolescent issues that many coming of age stories do.

"You can pack a lot into living if you try. And it feels like longer than it is, when you're young. Time moves slower"
Profile Image for Manon the Malicious.
968 reviews54 followers
May 28, 2018
DNF 20%

I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I think this book should come with a trigger warning.
I wouldn't have picked it up if it had. I just couldn't get past the very graphic rape scene where a 14 year-old gives head to a grown man.
It kept me from sleep for hours actually.
So trigger warning please.
154 reviews4 followers
December 25, 2017
More reviews are available on my blog:

Alex's mom has always been a wanderer but, one night, she decides to take Alex for an epic, across the country road trip to settle scores and learn to overcome her unhappy childhood.  By accompanying her, Alex's childhood pains and lessons are revealed.  

I liked the story about Alex's mom a lot.  I love stories about one's childhood that eventually lead to healing.  It was rather annoying, though, that one of the central parts of this book was that we never discover whether Alex is a boy or a girl.  I didn't really care one way or another but it felt as if the author was trying to be trendy in that "genderless" is very on topic right now.  It felt like the author was trying to bank on that trendiness.  It just didn't feel like it should be an important part of the book and too much of it was used for something that I don't think most people care that much about anyway.  That being said, I really liked both Alex and Alex's mom.  While both have been through enormous painful obstacles, the characters show how resilient people can be.  Even the minor characters were so interesting and unique.  Taylor is a gifted writer.  I felt myself going back and rereading many of her poetic writing.  While many of Alex's mother's stories, and even some of Alex's own stories, are very sad, there are some light moments in this book, as well.  This is not a total downer of a novel by any stretch of the imagination.  I really enjoyed this book and I think anyone who enjoys coming of age stories will, too.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  This is my honest opinion of this book.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,373 reviews104 followers
June 11, 2017

Alex is thirteen years old. One night, Alex's mother wakes the child up, packs up their belongings and they hit the road, leaving her unsuspecting husband behind. They set off on a journey, that the mother has mapped out, revisiting her troubled past, which includes seeking out important friends, that had influenced her young adulthood. She calls all these friends, Lauras. On the drive, the mother slowly begins to tell Alex stories, revealing the events that had shaped her early life.
The other theme, in the novel, is Alex struggling with sexual identity. It never is clear if the kid is a boy or girl.

I loved Taylor's debut novel, The Shore and of course, I really wanted to love this one too, but it really never took off for me. She is a fine writer and there is plenty of lovely prose here, I just wish the overall story was more satisfying.

Here is a description of Alex's parents: “They were like each other and not like each other, wanderers in different ways, speakers of different languages, and though they both felt the desire to share their hidden places, they could not share them with each other.”
Profile Image for Casey.
305 reviews70 followers
May 15, 2018
If you love a story about a mother's close and compelling relationship to her child, listen up. OR if you love a good road trip book. OR if you're an enthusiast of strong, budding genderqueer characters! This under-hyped book is for you.

Sarah Taylor's novel is a pretty compulsive read examining ways women and gender non-conforming people survive in a generally oppressive situations. [Warning, things are about to get punny.] When Alex and their mom (Ma) leave Alex's father - and their family home - in Virginia, they start an extended journey through North America and the roadmap of Ma's past. [Oof.] Taylor's beautiful writing persistently pushes momentum forward - not unlike a car on the road [Ouch.] - answering questions and creating new ones at the same time. And as the story drives to new destinations [Someone stop me.], we learn more of Ma's history, secrets, and past relationships with the men and women who shaped the person she's become.

In all seriousness, some of Ma's past experiences are a bit difficult to read. There are themes of sexual predators and assault, as well as the unending threats of violence against women. We see social and familial rejections of non-heteronormative people. We see vulnerable children with absent caregivers, children bouncing around the foster system, and children being exposed to ugly situations before they're mature enough to handle them. Yet, Alex and Ma are resilient and courageous defenders, and their story is ultimately encouraging and inspiring.
Profile Image for Margot.
112 reviews8 followers
July 21, 2017
This book is a beauty. I immediately was swept away on the road with Ma and Alex. The writing was gorgeous, such precise, evocative descriptions of place and wise observations from the now grown-up Alex looking back on this road trip experience. I liked how it is mostly Ma's story -- she is "driving" the narrative, so to speak. But we get her story from the perspective of Alex, who is along for the ride while going through adolescence and all the messy realizations that go with it. I appreciated how Alex's gender-fluid identity (the refusal to be categorized as either girl or boy) is a part of the story, but not the whole story.
In describing this book, I feel I keep hitting on well-worn categories: road trip, coming-of-age, parent/child relationships. But like Alex, this book is more complex than any category can suggest. The Lauras is a book that will continue to linger with me. And may well be one of my favourite reads of 2017.
Thank you Penguin!
Profile Image for Eleanor.
632 reviews178 followers
November 13, 2017
Being a series of short reviews of the Young Writer of the Year Award shortlisted titles. Spoilers ahead.

Sara Taylor’s first book, The Shore, made me sob openly in a coffee shop. It’s a novel composed of interlinked stories, all set on Virginia’s Atlantic shore, and despite its great beauty, it is dark: the scene that made me cry is a rape scene, and it represents better than any I’ve ever read the way in which an assault is so often a betrayal of trust, that stomach-flipping slide from joyful banter with someone you consider a friend to the queasy realisation that that friend wishes to—is about to—hurt you. Her second book, The Lauras, is on the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist, and on paper it’s nothing like The Shore, being a road trip novel and an exploration of mother/child relationships and a hymn to living unconventionally. But there is a genetic similarity: an interest in that same kind of darkness, a willingness to peer at the moments in which we realise ourselves to be in danger.

The title of the book is a bit of a red herring; yes, in theory, Ma and Alex are embarking on a two-year road trip across America to track down the five women—all named Laura—who played important roles in Ma’s life. But the focus of the book is not really on these women, or even necessarily on Ma’s past. Alex, who identifies as neither male nor female, is our narrator; we spend all of our time in their head, and what The Lauras is really about is the slow journey of a person towards comfort in their own skin.

(Rebecca posed the question, in an email thread between the shadow panelists, of how we see Alex’s sex or gender. I didn’t think very much about it until the point at which the book began to emphasise Alex’s non-binary identification, which doesn’t happen for some time. If I had to put money on it, I would say that Alex is probably biologically male. Obviously this isn’t the point of the book, but it makes the front cover design far more interesting: the person on the front is plainly coded as feminine—long hair, wearing a dress, seen from behind—which makes me think the whole design process was a piece of marketing bluff. The other option is that the design is a huge, ironic wink: there’s absolutely nothing in the text that suggests Alex is a girl, but because the book begins with a grown woman and a child fleeing a man in the middle of the night, our reading protocols are heavily weighted towards seeing them as such. One does not so readily picture adolescent boys escaping their fathers. It would probably be too much to hope that a commercial publisher’s design department would be so witty, though.)

Much of the book is told in flashback, as Ma tells Alex the parts of her story that are necessary for each new encounter. Most of these are interesting enough in themselves that the somewhat episodic nature of the tellings doesn’t drag: the story of Margaret-Mary, for instance, who is Ma’s friend and partner in crime at college until she meets and marries a devoutly Christian—and dour, humourless, repressive—man. Ma and Alex rescue Margaret-Mary’s eldest daughter, Anna-Maria, from the same fate, and Alex resents the way the two older women bond. It’s a clever way of incorporating another angle on what it means to be a good child, what it means to be a good parent, and whether, in the end, neither of those things is as important as developing your own sense of honesty and self-sufficiency.

There’s not a huge sense of urgency about The Lauras, so it helps that Taylor is capable of some really lovely turns of phrase: “We were caught on the thin, hungry edge of the morning,” she writes early on, “before the sun sliced itself open on the horizon and bled out across the sky.” There is also an emotional honesty to her treatment of potentially traumatic events that lifts them out of sordidness. Alex, trying to hitchhike back to the town where they’re staying after an ill-conceived jaunt to the next state over (so that they can send their dad a postcard without being traceable), is picked up by a classic Guy In A Car who ends up forcing them to give him a blowjob as payment for the lift. Taylor deals with it in the most astonishingly open and honest way: Alex is kind of grossed out, sure, but they’re also fourteen and desperate to get laid, and there’s a sense of grim determination in their efforts to get the guy off. When they think about it later, it is with disgust and fear, but never also without a faint tinge of excitement. That’s as true a reaction as any I can think of: reactions to assault are often complicated and inconsistent. Taylor’s willingness to explore that makes her an extremely brave writer, and she achieves the effect subtly.

Final verdict? Given that it’s the first of the shortlist that I finished, it’s impressive. Are there points at which the plot drags a little? Perhaps. But in a way, that is the purpose of the genre in which Taylor is working. A road trip novel, like a road trip, is never about where you’re ultimately heading, but about what you experience along the way.

The Young Writer of the Year Award winner is announced on 7 December. For more commentary, see the rest of the Shadow Panel: Rebecca, Clare, Dane and Annabel. This review was originally published on my blog at Elle Thinks.The Lauras is published by Windmill, and is available in paperback.
Profile Image for Erin Glover.
455 reviews35 followers
October 23, 2017
We don’t know what the fight is about, but it is the tipping point for Alex’s mother. She wakes up 13-year-old Alex and they grab their already-packed bags to set off on a road trip from Virginia to California, leaving Alex’s father behind. Alex’s mother, whose name we never find out, takes side trips to visit old friends and enemies.

The novel is a three-year long road trip. Alex’s mother shares her childhood story with Alex, and it’s bittersweet. She spent her childhood in a screwed up foster care system. The road trip is her journey to put her broken self together. She pays back a debt she owes, but also punches the lender in the nose for abusing her. She revisits the foster home where she grew up and takes satisfying actions based on how she was treated there. And so on.

Along the journey, she describes to Alex the numerous Laura’s she has met in her life, some of whom have more significance than others, but all of whom leave an impression, and ultimately, a lasting one.

The whole story is narrated by Alex when Alex is 30 years old. There are several point of view problems with the novel that really stuck out when I listened to the audio version. For example, how did Alex know what the person on the other end of the phone was saying or what their mood was? Alex didn’t participate in the call. This happened too frequently.

While Alex’s mother is busy piecing her life together, Alex is pulled from state to state, school to school. Alex’s gender is unidentified. They are bullied mercilessly and subjected to hate crimes, not to mention sexual abuse. So, while Alex’s mother is trying to put her life back together, Alex is trying to figure out who they are. They are excessively horny throughout the novel, and I found myself wanting to know if they would ever consummate their lustiness. I can’t say without spoiling the novel.

Alex’s mother’s childhood was a mess and it’s hard not to sympathize with her as she tries to make sense of her life. But she’s seriously flawed. Does a good mother drag her child across the country sending them to numerous schools, keeping them from their father, living in rundown apartments while she tends to her own needs? She clearly loves Alex but is it enough? Or does she owe them a stable home life?

I also found it difficult to suspend my disbelief. I have a 13-year old and I’ve raised two others. I find it hard to believe a 13-year old would spend hours on end driving in a car and equally hard to believe they would even listen to mother’s sad stories of her childhood. Teens are all about themselves.

The novel has an interesting premise. I liked the setting—a car. I liked the idea of a mother and child both trying to find themselves at the same time. The obstacles both faced were unusual and held my interest. The novel almost worked for me, but not quite.
621 reviews25 followers
June 25, 2017
Thank you to the First to Read program for the advanced reading copy of "The Lauras".
This is a difficult review to write. I almost stopped reading the book about a third of the way because I found it depressing . It was filled with such ugliness and the news is bombarding us with ugliness daily and I was reading to escape the news. It is ,as advertised,the tale of a mother -daughter road trip. The mother needs to finish some unfinished business from her youth, much of it occurring during her time in foster care. The mother leaves the child's father and takes the child, Alex, who is 13 at the beginning of the story and approximately 16 at its finish , along for the ride.The reader's perception of the mother changes throughout the tale. It is told in first person . The narrator being Alex who refuses or is unable to commit to a gender identity. She is actually angry that the world requires such information from her. Thus besides being a road trip ,it is also a coming of age story of Alex and some of the brutality that she experiences due to her refusal to accept a gender classification. As a mother and grandmother it is my opinion that a 16 year old is still a child regardless of the parents inclinations to think otherwise. It is quite a moving tale and written so well that upon finishing the novel I merely sat and quietly composed a letter that I wished to write to the mother... and I worried about Alex. I suppose that is testament to the quality of the writing. So how to review : yes it was very well-written but was I glad that I read it? I am still not sure. It definitely has the potential for a heated book club discussion.
Profile Image for Dane Cobain.
Author 29 books312 followers
November 12, 2017
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book for free to review as part of my position on the Young Writer of the Year Award shadow panel. Click here to find out more about that.

Despite this being the only of the books I’ve given five stars to so far, I’m retroactively upgrading The Lucky Ones to five stars as well. As far as I’m concerned, the competition for the overall winner of the award should be one or the other, although I liked them for different reasons.

I went into this thinking that it’s a road trip novel, but it’s so much more than that. It covers gender identity issues – but in a moving, meaningful way – and it asks the reader a lot of questions that they have to answer for themselves. But it’s also a gripping story, almost a double coming of age story for both Alex and Ma. It achieves that through a sort of dual narrative that delves into the past while literally driving forward in the present. That doesn’t always work well, but it worked well here.

The result is the sort of novel that could bridge the gap between literary fiction and the mainstream with a story that whether you can relate to or not, you’re still sure to enjoy. The characterisation is also fantastic, and in many ways it has to be – the book is about the characters as much as it’s about the plot, as the title of the novel starts to hint at.

Overall then, I thought this was a fantastic little read, and just the thing whether you read one book a year or whether you read hundreds.
Profile Image for Chinook.
2,258 reviews19 followers
November 12, 2020
First off, the selection for the reader for the audiobook is totally a bad choice. They couldn’t find a younger voice, a more androgynous voice? Having such an incredibly male voice reading this particular story does not at all fit the narrative, one in which you’re meant to have no idea what gender Alex might be.

Otherwise, it was a fine book. There was a joke about not being bankrupt after cancer by a woman living in Canada that really threw me - that’s such an American joke! However, it was overall an interesting read to put together as more details about the mother emerge as they travel further together.
Profile Image for Laura.
70 reviews1 follower
April 24, 2023
De Laura's is een bijzonder boek. Hoewel er weinig vaart in zit en ik meerdere keren heb getwijfeld of ik het boek verder ging lezen, was ik ergens wel getriggerd om verder te lezen. In dit verhaal volg je Alex, een genderloze adolescent met een rusteloze moeder. Door de reis die ze maken leer je het verleden van de moeder van Alex beter kennen waardoor je begrijpt hoe ze is geworden zoals ze is. Thema's zoals genderidentiteit en misbruik passeren de revue, waardoor het boek een diepere betekenis krijgt. Absoluut geen doorsnee roman, maar wel een boek dat me na liet denken en bij zal blijven.
January 10, 2023
Picked this book up in the thrift because it had my name. Read it while in Michigan-such relaxing days. I loved how the book jumped to the past while also discussing the present. The incorporation of gender was also cool to see. I loved seeing such an intense mother-child relationship; they only needed one another.
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