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The Biographies of Ordinary People, Vol. 1: 1989–2000

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  87 ratings  ·  28 reviews
A Millennial-era Little Women that follows three sisters from 1989 to the present.
Library Journal Self-e Selection, with five stars from Foreword Clarion Reviews: "This first volume is deeply satisfying."

The Biographies of Ordinary People is the story of the Gruber family: Rosemary and Jack, and their daughters Meredith, Natalie, and Jackie. The two-volume series begins i
Kindle Edition, 378 pages
Published May 23rd 2017
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  87 ratings  ·  28 reviews

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Dec 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary
Find all my book reviews, plus fascinating author interviews, exclusive guest posts and book extracts, on my blog:

In her guest post published on my blog a few months ago, Nicole talked about her inspiration for her book and her reason for focussing on the lives of just one family. She illustrated this with a quote from volume two in which Meredith asks:

“There are all these biographies of famous people and how they lived their lives, but most of us aren’t
May 30, 2017 rated it liked it
I did quite like this - I tore through it, but I also often felt a little frustrated with how pat the characters were. Everyone felt a little too self-satisfied, which is perhaps not very fair. I think this quality is what part of what I loved so much about Little House, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, etc, but maybe that's an obviousness that I needed and loved while reading at a younger age, but perhaps not so much now. I think part of my frustration too was that everything in the book was a little ...more
Maura Elizabeth
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that there are things that don’t happen in The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1. There is no adultery or divorce. There are no surprise love children or long-buried family secrets coming to light. There are some tough financial times, but no bankruptcy or ruin. There is death, but no murder.

I think I was nearly done reading the book before I realized that I was still half-holding my breath and waiting for any of the above things to happen.
Li Sian
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this slow-paced, stately novel about growing up in 1990s rural Missouri, and I definitely can't wait for Volume II, which comes out next year. Certainly reminiscent of Little Women, the novel follows the Gruber family: parents Jack and Rosemary, and daughters Meredith, Natalie and Jackie through a period of some twelve years as they attend school, go to work, join band, and (especially for the children) grow into themselves. I have to say that the characters I was most intri ...more
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it I loved this book. Nicole Dieker has managed to capture a very specific time in the not to distant past. The three Gruber sisters are so familiar to me, as the younger sister of three older sisters and the older sister of one younger sister and a niece who felt like just as close.

Reading Meredith's thoughts and feelings felt like a glimpse of my own diary from ages 7 and up. The buzzy feeling of excitement, the joy of a best friend and the curious thoughts of something other than the l
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been a fan of Nicole Dieker's writing on The Billfold for a long time, and this book doesn't disappoint. If you ever read her series "How Wizards Do Money" (, this book reminds me of that in the best way possible. It's honest about the joys and sorrows of small town life. It's honest about money and how our relationship with it and our parent's relationship with it impacts us in big and small ways. And, I think most importantly for me, it's honest ab ...more
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was extraordinarily well written. The characters were well developed and had clear and distinct voices. I loved all of them and this story. I enjoyed immensely being reminded of that particular small town bookworm game of finding every moment and person in a book you've read. Looking forward to the sequel. ...more
Sarah Dykes
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a quietly elegant book - Dieker does a fantastic job of creating interest and empathy in a cast of ordinary characters. We meet the Gruber family - father, mother and 3 daughters, who move to midwest small town USA. The characters are exceptionally well written and the vignette chapter styles are perfect. I related to so much that happened, because they are just ordinary people. I also particularly enjoyed the time period the book was written in, and it brought back so many memories for ...more
Ann T
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank you Nicole Dieker and Netgalley for an ARC of this book in return for my honest review.

This is the story of the three Gruber sisters and their family following their lives from 1989 to 2000. This was an enjoyable read on a wet afternoon, that kept me interested and keen to read more. I look forward to following the sisters through their next years in volume 2.
Glen Raphael
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love how much the story is of its time - I recall knowing people like this and *being* people like this as I lived through the same years as these characters. The frustration of realizing you've already learned most of what school was planning to teach you this year and yet you've still got to sit through it. The joys of finding a bigger library or discovering the internet; the troubles of navigating resource and social constraints. I love little offbeat details hinted at in passing, like Jack ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Nothing happens

Very well written, but not for me, I'm afraid.
I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, but nothing did, unless I dozed off and missed it.
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Little Women
This is an impressive novel. Doubly so that this is the author's debut novel. The prose is clear and straightforward. The characters (the Gruber family and their friends and associates) are fully-drawn and believable. The setting (a small Missouri college town in the 1990s) is adroitly described with choice details. The story hums right along. This is a page-turner. I would sit down thinking that I'd only read a chapter or two and wind up reading seven chapters.

The Grubers are a musical family,
Courtney Guerra
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This aptly titled novel offers a glimpse into the lives of a few interconnected families in a small community, tracing the evolution of their relationships and lives through chapter-length vignettes. Readers who share a background with the daughters in the story (born in the early '80s, growing up in the US Midwest--like, for example, myself) will appreciate the way the narrative activates their own memories, but the novel's charm goes beyond recognition and nostalgia, and the adults are part of ...more
This is a quiet yet compelling book, following the lives of the Gruber family as the three daughters grow from toddlers to high schoolers in a small midwestern town. Told in vignettes in varying perspectives (sometimes one of the daughters, sometimes one of the parents), we watch these "ordinary" lives unfold in a series of "ordinary" events (moving, school, work, friends, illness, etc.). While nothing really dramatic happens here, the story is absorbing nonetheless - maybe because it feels like ...more
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book captures so many poignant, ordinary moments with simplicity and grace. The points of view and relationships between the characters are very detailed and realistic, and I loved seeing them grow and change over time. I also loved this novel because I identified so strongly with Meredith-I'm amazed someone else can understand and articulate how she lives in her own head and observes/analyzes/self-edits like I did as a child (and still do). The prom scene and the scenes with Jackie and Pri ...more
Katy Caris
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Immersive Nostalgia

I'm about ten years younger than the main characters, but their growing up felt so true to my growing up experience. This book had one of the most authentic descriptions of sisters I've read. The only part I disliked was how preternatural some of the childhood dialogue and cognitions were. The characters at points seemed more precocious than even John Green characters and I say this as someone who was very verbal and literary as a kid. However, the story and the rich descripti
E. Clark
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Dieker has written the kind of novel only she could. Her voice is present on every page, as is her passion for the stories of these characters.

Is there a bombastic plot? No. Is the novel quieter and more introspective than some would like? Perhaps. But I enjoyed it thoroughly because it succeeded at what it was trying to do. Roger Ebert judged movies that way, so that’s the way I judge books.

To me, it felt like a novel in stories, a series of linked short fictions—a collage. Each story of the
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Unusually I wrote this review while I was in the process of reading the book. There were some things that I liked. Its influences were clear. The book is poignant; it is built exclusively around a sense of nostalgia for a certain white, Christian, small-town kind of childhood. (This perspective is gently challenged by occasional POV snippets from Daniel, whose family is Indian, but the story is primarily about the Grubers' white Christian experience.) And you do get that palpable nostalgia: Sund ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebook, fiction
This was a really quick read, and quite enjoyable. I particularly liked that I started to recognize things form my own childhood, though I think I was a couple of years older than the oldest sister. I struggled to get into it at first, because nothing much was happening, but I pretty quickly grew interested in the women (three sisters and mom - there's a dad, too, but he's more of a peripheral figure) and from there things sailed along. Looking forward to the next installment.

Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
I anticipated an interesting read about "ordinary" people. What I got was a dry, plain novel telling the story of a family much like my own. As appealing as this sounds, I found myself quite bored many times. It's not a terrible novel, but just not my taste. Perhaps if you're looking for a read that doesn't require much brain power this could be for you. ...more
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The author does an excellent job of capturing the emotions and thoughts of each character. I am disappointed that Daniel and Meredith did not ever get together even for a short lived romance. I think that would have added a lot to the story. Meredith needed some love in her life.
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I very much appreciated this book as a quiet, thoughtful portrait of growing up at a time that wasn't so long ago, but that already feels so much gentler and more innocent than the world we live in now. ...more
Heartland Girl
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very enjoyable reading.
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved all the 90s references, the early days of the internet, email, AIM, video games, renting movies! It made me nostalgic for that time.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was really lovely. I can't wait to read Vol. 2 ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-shelf
You know the books you loved so much as a kid that you just started reading them again the moment you finished? "Biographies" is one of those, all grown up.

The writing is precise, yet it feels effortless, laying bare in a few sentences deep truths that can take us years to understand in our own lives. The setting is quietly and deeply realized, creating an intense sense of inhabiting a particular time, and what it meant, then, to be modern, to grow up, to raise children, to weigh the small and t
Kathy Stueber
Jan 20, 2019 rated it liked it
I found this book in my daughter’s apartment, and I decided to read it. We both had read and enjoyed Little Women, and this book sounded like it had the same format. I did enjoy it, and I do intend to read the sequel. I enjoyed meeting the characters and following their lives. The only thing about the book was that it was set in my lifetime. I did not enjoy it as much as Little Women because Little Women was so different. It was set in a different time, and it almost seemed exotic. Biographies o ...more
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Nicole Dieker has been a freelance writer for nearly a decade. Her work has appeared in Lifehacker, Vox, The Billfold, Popular Science, and more. The Biographies of Ordinary People is her debut novel, if you don't count the speculative fiction epic she wrote in high school. ...more

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