I recently heard a terrific talk about the “backpacks of (metaphorical) rocks” we all carry–those burdens that follow us through life and affect so much of what we do and how we treat people. There are the rocks created by others, the rocks we made ourselves, and those uncontrollable rocks that are just part of being human. In this talk, the speaker focused mostly on women and how we often choose to carry our burdens alone, even when we don’t have to. I thought about this concept a lot in relation to these two books.
In Worlds Apart, a debut novel by Jane Crittenden, teens Amy and Olivia both carry backpacks heavily burdened by the actions of others. But while Amy stays upbeat and friendly, Olivia is sullen and moody. Years later, the roles are reversed and it is Amy who is bitter. Now a single mother with a popular bakery and supportive friends, she is the picture of negativity. When Chris, her daughter’s father, reenters her life after nineteen years, Amy treats him with snarky saltiness, wondering why he never inquires about his child. She wrestles with her feelings of confusion and contempt, always playing the victim and never coming out and just saying what’s on her mind. The resulting drama is unnecessary and maddening. Amy never earns our sympathy or endearment. Everything works out after a dreary three hundred pages, but only because of luck, and not in a way that feels sincere or satisfying. Sadly, this novel did not even come close to meeting my expectations. 3/10 Stars
The People We Keep, by Allison Larkin, is a fascinating study in human behavior. As we follow the life of young singer-songwriter April Sawiki, we see that problems can affect us without defining us. We are also reminded that parental scars are the deepest, whether they be physical or emotional. In April’s case, they are both. With only her guitar and her dad’s ex-girlfriend as her solace and support, sixteen year old April is left to fend for herself. Soon, survival mode is all she knows and that early hunger for love and belonging stretches into years. During April’s journey to find her place in the world, she gravitates towards other broken people, always slow to trust but amazingly observant. She is scrappy and rough, but she’s also kind, helpful, protective, and never toxic. Author Allison Larkin does a remarkable job with April’s character development, making her both strong and fragile, always wanting more but feeling she deserves less. By the time we leave April, her future is still imperfect, but it seems hopeful. Her personal rule of always leaving people with good memories extends to the reader as well. This book is beautifully written and deeply profound. 9/10 Stars