Just like last month, I’m talking about an adult book! Weird.
1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.
The MC is fourteen, but the book definitely has an adult-looking-back quality. June has some insights into her emotions that can only be realized years later, once she’s lived more of her life and looks back from a distance. But there were some scenes with her older sister that screamed raw, teen emotion. If you have siblings, especially close in age, you’ll understand. No matter how much you love each other, there will always be moments where you bite each other’s heads off or do mean things for no reason.
I was a kid in the 80s, so it was easy to imagine June’s confusion over her uncle’s illness and her mother’s reticence in talking about it. AIDS was this huge, scary new thing and the lack of information and understanding made it much worse. I think I learned the most about it from watching Ryan White and his mom on daytime talk shows. The news screamed, “DEATH! BAD! SICK!” while all I saw was this ordinary-looking kid who wasn’t allowed to go to school and I didn’t understand why people were so scared.
I think that’s the same way June felt, although obviously on a much more personal level. She loved Finn more than anyone and she suddenly had to process so much more than just his death. I don’t want to give away too many details, but the book is heartbreaking in places and the grief almost tangible.
The setting is described so well, at least in her hometown – I could almost feel the cold of winter and imagine the smell of stew from her house. The scenes in NYC I had a little bit of trouble picturing, but I’ve lived my whole life in towns with less than 20,000 people, so it’s hard to imagine the hustle and bustle.
I mentioned the stew detail above and there were a lot of gems like that, these little everyday observation (I’ve already returned the book to the library, otherwise I would quote directly). In a few places, the language was a little too dreamy/overly poetic for me, but that could be a personal preference on my part. I do enjoy the sparseness of Hemingway, after all.
One other minor issue I had was the way 80s references were dropped, almost like a reminder of what year it was. It felt sorta obtrusive and I didn’t think it was necessary. The story spoke for itself.
What great books have you all read lately?
My TBR-list at the beginning of February was 981. It is now at 983. Not too shabby and I’m pretty sure all I added were 2014 releases.
My TBR-shelf was at 49. It’s now 46!
Combining the +2 and -3, I come out with one less book! Slow and steady, my friends. Slow and steady.
RECHARGE – DAY 3
There are some FANTASTIC exercises about characterization over at Sara Biren’s blog today, so check those out. When I have time this weekend, I’m going to get to know my characters a little better.
In the meantime, here is my answer to the
Tell us something about yourself that makes you unique – a quirky habit or unusual characteristic.
I couldn’t think of one I haven’t already mentioned on the blog, so I asked my husband and he said, “You won’t open the tubes of rolls [like refrigerated biscuits and croissants] because you’re convinced they’re going to explode.”
So true. I make him do it or, if he’s not around, I turn my head and bang them on the side of the counter while humming because the popping noise freaks me out.
Neurotic. I know.