Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Reader's Jury

Last year I applied to be part of Elle magazine's Readers Jury and I was tickled pink when I was assigned to the September jury.

I received the three September books quite a while ago and had to turn in the reviews in the middle of June. The September issue came in the mail today (with a blurb from me in it!) so I figure I can share my thoughts on the books.

Here are my reviews:

Every Visible Thing by Lisa Carey

Five years after eldest son Hugh's disappearance, the Furey family has still not come to terms with his loss. Parents Elizabeth and Henry ignore their other children and drown themselves in their work. After spending two years in bed, Elizabeth decides to go to medical school. While she lavishes TLC on AIDS patient David, she manages to miss all of her own children's thinly-veiled calls for help. Always a bit of an absentminded professor, Henry becomes even more distant when he loses his job at the University and gives up on his own scholarly work.

Told alternatively from the perspectives of 15-year-old Lena and 10-year-old Owen, Every Visible Thing is a portrait of grief. Each secretly excavating the basement for fragments of the family's past, Lena and Owen follow different paths in their search for closure. As Owen struggles with problems in school and his emerging homosexuality, he becomes obsessed with Henry's erstwhile academic specialty, angels; casting Hugh in the role of his guardian angel. Lena tries to understand Hugh by reconstructing his life. She develops his photos, immerses herself in the local punk scene, and eventually leaves home herself in hopes of finding answers.

Raw and emotional, Every Visible Thing is an engrossing read. Carey has created a brilliant and brutally honest portrayal of adolescence and loss.

Goodbye Lemon by Adam Davies

Adam Davies follows his debut novel, Frog King (2002), with a gut-wrenching story about love, loss, and family. In Goodbye Lemon, Davies takes a clich├ęd story line -- grown child returns home to confront the past he left behind and finds redemption -- and injects it with smart, dark humor and well-conceived characters to create a novel that is fresh and amazingly honest.

Washed up academic Jack Tennant is still reeling from the loss of his brother Dexter (nicknamed Lemon) twenty-seven years ago. For fifteen years, he's been estranged from the alcoholic father he blames for both Dexter's death and his own failings in life. After his father suffers a stroke, Jack succumbs to pressure from his mother and girlfriend Hahva (who knows nothing about his past) to go home and help care for his father.

The stress of coming home will bring Jack to his breaking point. There is much he must realize about himself and his family before he can come to terms with the past. The question is: will he self destruct first?

Narrative tricks -- like the running score of Jack vs. the house -- make Goodbye Lemon a joy to read. And, Jack is such a sympathetic character, despite his flaws, that readers will be engaged through every bit of Jack's turbulent reunion.

Rise & Shine by Anna Quindlen

Host of network morning show Rise and Shine, Meghan Fitzmaurice is one of the most famous people in the country. She also has a perfect life: a happy marriage to her childhood sweetheart, a well-adjusted son off at a good college, a multi-million dollar apartment in Manhattan. Her unmarried younger sister Bridget is a social worker who works with homeless women in the Bronx. Though they live two very different lives, the sisters are close. One morning when Meghan accidentally
lets her guard down while the camera is still on, the sisters' world is turned upside down.

Anna Quindlen's latest novel, Rise and Shine, is the story of two sisters and how they each deal with adversity. It is also an exploration of the meaning of success and the importance of being true to oneself. Quindlen has a real understanding of human nature and in her hands even celebrity Meghan is accessible to the reader.

While this book doesn't challenge the reader as much as Goodbye Lemon and Every Visible Thing, it is a perfect selection for summer reading.

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