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The Rope Walk

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The Rope Walk brings us the dazzling story of a pivotal summer in the life of Alice, a redheaded tomboy and motherless girl who is beloved and protected by her five older brothers and her widower father, a professor of Shakespeare. On Memorial Day, at her tenth birthday party in the garden of her Vermont village home, Alice meets two people unlike any she’s known before. Theo is a mixed-race New York City kid visiting his white grandparents for the summer. Kenneth is a cosmopolitan artist with AIDS who has come home to convalesce with his middle-aged sister. Alice and Theo form an instant bond and, almost as quickly, find themselves drawn into the orbit of the magisterial Kenneth. When the children begin a daily routine of reading aloud to the artist, who is losing his eyesight, they discover the journals of Lewis and Clark and decide to embark on their own wilderness adventure: they plan and secretly build a “rope walk” through the woods for Kenneth and in the process learn the first of many hard truths about the way adults see the world, no matter that they are often wrong.

The great gift of The Rope Walk is its exquisitely poised writing. Alice’s narrative is a profound experience of innocence, of perception balanced between childhood and adulthood. The flying spark of new friendship, the first intimation of adult love, the consolation of devotion, which allow Alice and Theo to shed light in the midst of darkness and to find joy in mutual understanding: these glistening threads are drawn together in a timeless story–profound, seductive, wise, and moving, from first to last.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published May 1, 2007

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About the author

Carrie Brown

21 books65 followers
Carrie Brown is the author of five novels – her most recent novel is The Rope Walk (Pantheon, 2007) – and a collection of short stories, The House on Belle Isle. Her other novels include Rose’s Garden, Lamb in Love, The Hatbox Baby and Confinement.

She has won many awards for her work, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and The Great Lakes Book Award. She has also twice won the Library of Virginia’s Fiction Award, and her novel The Rope Walk was chosen as the All Iowa Reads Selection by the Iowa Public Library. Her novels have appeared on the Best Books of the Year lists from The Christian Science Monitor and The Chicago Tribune.

A frequent book reviewer for newspapers including The Washington Post and The Boston Globe, her short fiction has also appeared in journals including One Story, The Oxford American, The Georgia Review, Glimmer Train, and Blackbird. She teaches Creative Writing at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. You can visit her summer reading blog http://bookclub.blog.sbc.edu/.

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5 stars
201 (20%)
4 stars
382 (38%)
3 stars
294 (29%)
2 stars
94 (9%)
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30 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 197 reviews
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,709 reviews325 followers
June 26, 2016
Book on CD narrated by Elaina Erica Davis.

This coming-of-age novel opens on Memorial Day. Alice McCauley is the youngest child, having five older brothers who dote on and protect her. Her father is a Shakespeare scholar at the local college; her mother died when Alice was a baby. On the morning of her tenth birthday, she senses that her world is about the change. At her party Alice meets two people unlike any she’s known to date. Theo is the bi-racial, New York City kid who has come to this small Vermont town to spend the summer with his grandparents. Kenneth also hails from New York, where he has worked as a renowned set designer and artist in the city; suffering from AIDS he has come home to live with his sister. Over the summer the three will form a lasting bond, and Alice will begin to leave childhood behind.

The novel has a somewhat slow pace, but it brought back many fond memories of the idyllic summers of youth. Long days spent doing “nothing” and “everything.” Exploring the endless wonders of our environment, making friends, learning new skills, gaining confidence in our abilities to handle adversity, and also coming to terms with loss.

One of the difficulties with choosing a child narrator, however, is that the adult reader will clearly see certain plot elements coming long before the innocent (or perhaps less-experienced) child. Still, I thought Brown did a good job of revealing the plot elements, and the changing relationships.

Elaina Erica Davis does a reasonably good job performing the audio. She makes me believe it is narrated by a 10-year-old. I wasn’t a fan of Kenneth’s voice and didn’t understand why one of Alice’s older brothers had a British accent. But those were minor. I loved Alice and Theo as Davis portrayed them.
194 reviews
June 4, 2018
So I know that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but to profit from that is pretty corrupt. This book tries to knock off To Kill a Mockingbird so blantly that I cannot believe it was published. The plot mimics TKAM well. A quirky, tall tale telling boy comes to visit for the summer in a small quaint town where the main character's family shun phones and tv and they get into mischief. The mischief is notoriously bland and leaves you feeling like you just ate a dry cracker when you had been craving warm, homemade bread seeping with rich butter (or olive oil). There are required readings to an old ill person; the crisis of the book takes place right after a town dance (TKAM it was a play); the girl even reads TKAM in the final blessed chapter. The main character's father is a shadow of Atticus Finch. His name is Archie MacCauley & his gestures rip the glasses right off Atticus. There are just too many things that do not add up. I truly do not know how a professor supports 6 to 7 kids as well as full time help. Why would he and his now deceased wife have had 6 children. The dead mother apparently dies 1 month after giving birth by falling off a horse. Who goes on a horse a month after giving birth? Then there was the tangential exposition. The author takes 5 chapters and 79 pages to talk about the birthday of a 10 year old girl. Really, the book is just drivel with an original idea or two but no soul. Very happy to be done. The zen of it ia that I plan on putting a lot more consideration imto choosing my books.
Profile Image for Suzy .
199 reviews13 followers
June 8, 2010
Carrie Brown is such a fabulous writer. Every sentence is so perfected. And the story as a whole is--as I try to think of what to say here, I am actually forming my hands into the shape of a snow globe--as if I were carefully holding a beautiful, fragile thing. That is what Carrie Brown's story is. 10-yr. old Alice's inner life is so real and recognizable. It is to Brown's credit that she can remember (for she must) and recapture that in a novel. Alice's summer friend, Theo, is a wonderful character too. I highly recommend this book to my women friends--don't know how a male would find it. It'd be interesting to find out. The book reminded me, all along, of To Kill a Mockingbird, both in the feel of the telling and similarities in the story: a widowed father, race prejudice, a small town, a sensitive tomboy with a forlorn boy as a bosom buddy....and then, to my surprise, Brown has Alice reading To Kill a Mockingbird in one of the last chapters! So, maybe the connection was in her mind too?
The only thing I thought was weird was the way Alice spent her time: Even though it took place in the present, with references to terrorists, war in Iraq, etc., she spent her free time only in old fashioned ways, which seemed unrealistic. One time she is facing having to go to the university with her dad and laments that she will only be able to read or color there. Um...get on the computer? These sorts of misses sort of jolted me now and then.
Profile Image for Mind the Book.
764 reviews60 followers
July 4, 2015
You had me at "...coming-of-age during a crucial summer in New England". Trots detta infann sig visst initialt tvivel: men hallå, jag gillar ju inte att läsa om b a r n! men åh, så mycket anspråksfullt, platskrävande bildspråk och så lååånga kapitel!

On her windowsill, Alice waited, watching. The full energy of the day, like a parade assembling its drums and cymbals and marching players, lay just out of sight, gathering strength at the end of the world. Any moment now, the day's brimming cup would spill over the far treetops and flood the hour with light.

Sedan drogs jag in i den sommardoftande storyn, som också innehåller existentiellt mörker, sjukdom, död och weltschmerzigt uppvaknande. Jfr. Stand by Me eller Io non ho paura, vid sidan av Alice i Underlandet/To Kill a Mockingbird-motivet.

#BOTNS-bingo: 'Recommended in a BOTNS episode'

Profile Image for Angie.
1,334 reviews15 followers
May 22, 2009
This is one of those books you either really like or really dislike - personally , I really disliked it . The story was lacking depth. It was hidden behind never-ending sentences and flowery discriptions that lost my attention . I wanted to sharpie marker through all of the author's " like ..." 's and " as if ...." 's !
Profile Image for Karen.
269 reviews19 followers
July 13, 2008
Finished this one awhile back. It's a slow start but a good read. As the main character (whose name is now totally forgotten to me) turns ten, she experiences a summer that changes her life and brings her out of innocence and into a painful understanding of the complexities of the world.

Two strangers come to town: Theo (I don't know why I remember his name but not hers) ends up living with the girl and her family after his grandmother, a close friend and neighbor, suffers a stroke. Theo is half black and his grandfather seems to have a problem with this. As Main Character develops a close friendship with Theo, she realizes some painful truths about racism. The second stranger is the elderly brother of another neigbor, an artist named Kenneth who is dying from AIDs. Main Character and Theo spend much time with Kenneth, reading to him. The kids bring Kenneth a much needed infusion of youthful energy. Wanting to do something nice for Kenneth, the children decide to build him a rope walk, extending from his home into the woods. This way, they think, Kenneth can leave the stuffy and claustrophobic home of his sister and venture out into the world. A child's act of generosity sets the stage for a tragedy that the reader sees coming almost immediately, though the children cannot fathom it.

This was a beautiful, if slighly over-written book that really captures the beginning of a loss of innocence. I loved Main Character and Theo. I also found the relationship between Kenneth and his sister sad and haunting. I wish the book had been a little less lengthy--it could have used some editing--but overall I found it a gorgeous read.
298 reviews10 followers
July 4, 2011
An "assigned" book for me, as our book club is to discuss this later in the month. Because most of the action takes place during the summer, this is a good season in which to read it. In the small Vermont town of Grange, Alice, the protagonist, is celebrating her 10th birthday as the book opens. And suddenly nothing is quite like it has been before.... her five older brothers are about to take off again for the summer (most already are out of the house, in college, anyway) but at her party, Alice meets Theo, a mixed-race boy from New York City who is just her age, and Kenneth, an ailing cosmopolitan artist who has returned to Grange to live with his eccentric sister, Hope Fitzgerald. When Theo's grandma--the beloved-by-Alice Helen O'Brien-- is stricken with a debilitating stroke, Theo is plopped into Alice's household and the pair are dispatched to cheer the housebound and depressed Kenneth. The plot turns on their most innocent decision to create a "rope walk" into the woods in the hope that Kenneth might be able to use it to enjoy a little nature on his own (once again). The relationships between Alice and all the other characters-- her widowed father, Archie; the smart but seemingly unloved Theo; her brothers; Kenneth; her family's housekeeper, Elizabeth; other community members; fill the book, which is an easy read, somewhat thought-provoking, but definitely not over-taxing for a summer's afternoon. There is more going on than what appears on the surface, of course, but you can take from it what you like.
Profile Image for Patty.
2,297 reviews100 followers
November 4, 2009
It wasn't until my book group discussed this book that I realized why I liked it so much. It is really To Kill A Mockingbird in many ways. Yes, I know there is not so much about race relations and Archie is certainly no Atticus, but Brown really has written an homage to Scout and her story.

This is not a bad thing. Many authors have been influenced by Harper Lee and her amazing book. Many authors have written wonderful coming of age stories. And we need to add Carrie Brown to that list of writers.

Alice is 10 when this novel opens - matter of fact it is her birthday. Unfortunately the day does not bring just good, there are major changes underway in Alice's life. Those changes: a boy who comes to live at Alice's house a neighbor and her dying brother and the creation of an amazing gift among other issues help Alice see that she is growing up.

What I liked most about this book was the language. I think Carrie Brown is able to tell so much with a descriptive sentence. I wish I had listened to the novel - I might have caught even more wonderful sentences. I may have to listen to another of Brown's stories.
Profile Image for Iowa City Public Library.
703 reviews70 followers
July 21, 2010
The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown is a wonderful journey with two ten-year-olds, Alice and Theo, during their summer break in New England. Left alone for many hours, they begin a friendship with a cosmopolitan neighbor, Kenneth, who has returned home to convalesce. Alice and Theo’s affection for Kenneth lead them to create a rope walk for his enjoyment of the nearby woods where Kenneth spent a lot of time as a child. But just as rope sometimes unravels, good intentions lead to unexpected consequences. Alice’s love of books and time spent at the library brought back many wonderful memories of my childhood.

I had the pleasure of listening to a recording of this book and was very sorry when it came to an end. The narration by Elaina Erika Davis was wonderful and added to my enjoyment of the book. This was an unexpected pick for All Iowa Reads but a very good choice. ~~Enjoy~~


From ICPL Staff Picks Blog
Profile Image for Candice.
1,389 reviews
July 17, 2007
No one writes descriptions like Carrie Brown. When I read her books, I have to pause and think about how beautifully she has described the trees after a rain, or the way the sunlight comes through a window or any number of things. The Rope Walk abounds with such descriptions and I reveled in reading them.

Reading about Alice and Theo, I was reminded of those long summers of childhood that I had consigned to the back of my mind. Playing outside all day, getting dirty and sweaty, waking up in the morning and knowing that the whole day stretched ahead, unstructured. Those children were so endearing, too, and Alice's family life was so loving. Great characters, all of them.

I admired Kenneth's courage, but do not want to say too much more so as not to spoil the book for others.
Profile Image for Patrick Barry.
894 reviews7 followers
March 29, 2018
Two motherless 11 year olds are at the center of this novel. Shortly after Alice was born, her mother died in a horse riding accident. Alice is beloved by her five brothers and her father Archie, but the world of her childhood is disappearing and she is slowly getting drawn into the more dangerous world of adults. Theo is biracial and comes to Alice's Vermont town because his mother has been hospitalized with depression. He is staying at his grandparents who are good friends with Archie. When Theo's grandmother is suddenly incapacitated with a stroke and his grandfather's time becomes too constrained with his wife's illness, Theo is taken in by Alice's family. Both Alice and Theo have great creativity; in particular Theo's manifests itself in engineering. They form an immediate friendship. A friend of Archie's returns to Vermont that summer. He is a painter and has worked on Broadway in set designs. He is also in the end stage of Aids. Archie sends the two youngsters to read books to the painter to help ease his day, but eventually the children have a greater gift in mind.

This is an excellent coming of age story and the writing is top notch. I enjoyed it immensely.
Profile Image for Sophie.
555 reviews32 followers
January 28, 2019
This book grew on me. As one reviewer wrote Every sentence is so perfected. That was my initial problem with the book. The author was trying too hard to come up with the perfect analogy, description, narrative. But once I got over that I could not put the book down.
The story begins with Alice, living with her father and five brothers in a big farmhouse in Vermont on her tenth Birthday. She has led a kind of sheltered life in that she is vaguely aware of events in the world at large but mostly her orbit goes as far as the little town where she lives. Her world is greatly changed and expanded when Theo, a boy from NYC who comes to visit his grandparents for the summer comes to live with Alice's family. Theo has experiences and ideas and a vivid imagination that draws Alice in with the promise of adventures she never imagined. Theo and Alice are sent to a neighbor’s house at his request to read to him as he is extremely ill with AIDS and is losing his eyesight. The story is told through Alice’s perspective and is thoroughly enjoyable because she is at the crossing of childhood and emerging adulthood.
I recommend this book and the only reason for a missing star is at times the writing style was just trying too hard for perfection
396 reviews1 follower
December 18, 2022
The blurb on the jacket flap was way more interesting than the book itself. Alice does meet two people “unlike any she’s ever known before” but it’s not like she’s that sheltered and unaware of diversity, given that their housekeeper is a Vietnamese refugee. More than once there were disconnects in the details— daffodils and iris blooming while peonies were browning; Alice at the piano by 5, playing for almost two hours and done by 7:30; grass clippings up to her knees. Dumb, I know, but those irritate me. Much worse was the occasional sexual tension between Alice and Theo. It was like in the Lion King movie when the cubs were wrestling and all of a sudden we got bedroom eyes from Nala. It was interesting that just as I was at a loss as to the meaning of the title the author started that part of the book.
Profile Image for Rachel .
19 reviews2 followers
July 20, 2017
I picked up this book out of curiosity, mainly owing to the fact that the author is one of my English professors at college and a wonderful woman. I wasn't sure what to expect from the book, but I was excited to see more of the author side of Carrie Brown than what she showed in the classroom. The Rope Walk is a summer novel in the most pure and undiluted sense of the phrase. It transports you into Alice's life handles a growing up and loss of innocence with the naiveté and candor of a young child. I was in some ways reminded of To Kill A Mockingbird, but Carrie has created a story that is all her own. A beautiful, lyrical, and poignant piece of contemporary fiction, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone.
Profile Image for Tessa.
406 reviews1 follower
June 10, 2020
It's really hard for me to decide between 3 and 4 stars for this book. I loved the gorgeous language, and the descriptions were incredibly vivid. I could smell exactly how the world smelled in this story. But Alice, whose life we experience over a summer, could not possibly have had all these deep and meaningful insights. She was only 10! There were other things I loved: the way here brothers treated her and helped her, and how they helped at the Fitzgerald home. And the way Archie could quote Shakespeare. But all those brothers left Alice on her own, and Archie really didn't parent her at all. And then again, there was that wonderful Theo, and all his quirks. I could not help but love him. So, a book worth reading, but I'm still not sure about it.
386 reviews1 follower
May 14, 2017
Wonderful Vermont writer who shows you the compassion of two ten year old kids that help a man with aids live and die. Lots of feels in this book. The unfairness of being good looking and having a sister that is not good looking. Being half Black and getting shunned by your White grandparents. Going through a divorce along with your mom and dad. Losing a mom you never really met. But regardless of the unhappiness two kids make a miracle happen and share a lot in one summer. Plus is your life that bad, these kids survive and you can feel the love in this book.
66 reviews
June 8, 2019
This author has the talent to write lyrical prose but it’s overdone throughout the nook so for me it was distracting from the story until the end when her prose became infused with mastery. The end was as. Good a read as any master I’ve read — not the story — just the writing. The story didn’t work for me at all. Hard to believe ten year olds feel the stirrings of romantic love in the way the author described. It just felt like she was trying to heal with s lot of themes and so didn’t deal with any well. This book goes into my good will bin
Profile Image for Kathleen.
66 reviews1 follower
July 15, 2019
My only complaint was that it ended very abruptly and kind of left you just hanging there...ugh!! My first book by this author who captivated me instantly from the first page with her vivid descriptions of persons and places, I couldn't hardly put it down! Centers around a motherless little girl named Alice, her best friend Theo, her less than loving Dad Archie, and her five older brothers. Her dear friend Kenneth had a special love and care for her also. It took me on wonderful journeys-highly reccomended!! (except the darn ending!!!!)
December 31, 2021
Even though this book had some contradictions like why the two children were out of school for summer holidays since the spring and why Archie was so strict about so many things but let the children wander all day long without supervision it was a great book. I loved all the characters and their quirkiness. Alice was such an innocent and thoughtful little girl and Theo was quite an industrious chatter box. I liked how the brothers all looked after Alice especially Wally. This book also touched upon AIDS and diseases. I secretly hope that Carrie Brown will have Theo and Alice met up again.
Profile Image for m_miriam.
421 reviews
August 12, 2018
I usually don't care for coming of age stories, but this is an exception, I think because it did not involve romance, trauma/abuse, or triangulation. I appreciated the inter-generational friendship, the evocative narration, and sense of self developed by the main character. I did find the technological disconnect confusing and unbelievable and at times times the fictional Grange was too idyllic, like a Stars Hollow without the commentary and sarcasm of the Gilmores.
308 reviews1 follower
November 26, 2019
3.5 stars, but generous to 4. Really beautiful writing, some stunning lines. But the author seemed a little enamored with her skill - way too many tangents that didn't enrich the story, and the detailed writing got bogged down by the 3/4 mark. That said, some really gems in the pile, just wish it had less pile.
302 reviews
February 5, 2020
Audio - I loved this book. It was hard to get into at first but the author captured the coming of age of two 10 year olds. I had forgotten what it felt like until she wrote about it. The story is about Alice and Theo and their reading Lewis and Clark to Kenneth, a man with Aids. Excellent, excellent book.
1,036 reviews
November 11, 2018
I liked this book more and more as I got into it. The writing is lovely, but you'll need to enjoy hearing in great detail a child's view of her world. The characters are great, but I must say I don't think that the way Alice's dad acted during a pivotal moment fit with his character.
Profile Image for Jess DiGregorio.
26 reviews1 follower
December 3, 2018
Throughly captures the magic of a childhood while exposing the dark sides of modern adulthood
Profile Image for Angela.
893 reviews5 followers
April 8, 2019
What a wonderfully written coming of age book. Though not listed as YA, this would be a great book for middle school kids.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
926 reviews1 follower
June 20, 2019
I liked it, but didn’t love it and I’m not sure why. The characters are very rich and sympathetic. I will continue thinking of that little girl for quite some time!
3 reviews
July 15, 2022
Lyrical, sweet and continually unpredictable. A lovely summer read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 197 reviews

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