AFTERMATH by Suzanne Morris: A Characterization Review

To me, the criteria for a good novel, even one based on fact and rigorously researched like Morris’s Aftermath, is good characterization. Plot, resolution of plot, description, or anything else is not as important to me. Morris’s 2016 novel, the story of the aftermath of the New London School tragedy in New London, Texas, March 18, 1937 could be a novel of great suspense and tragic drama. However, the novel deals with the aftermath of the explosion that killed one-third of the town’s population, almost all of its children and teachers, and affected each household in the community. The following questions were suggested by a fellow blogger to measure how an author dealt with character.

  1. Who was your favorite character? Delys Lithingate, a survivor of the New London School Explosion, was the main character, the protagonist, but as my Third Tuesday Book Club agreed, she was not necessarily a “favorite” character because she had flaws and often acted selfishly, and was even described at a “teenage brat” by one member. (She was booed down by the rest of the members, reminding her of how her aunt intruded on her life and caused “hateful,” selfish thoughts in Delys’s mind.) Most of us agreed Delys was definitely a complex character and was expertly drawn in fairness and honesty by the author.
  2. Who was your favorite secondary character? Here, at the book club, there was agreement–Bruce Buckstrum. He had our complete empathy, reading him as “always second,” first to his brother and sister; then his life took a backseat to his father who went to pieces via alcohol after dealing with the bodies and deaths caused by the explosion. After all, he was the town doctor, and ended up telling parents there was nothing he could do to save their children or gathered up missing parts of bodies for parents to identify. What he went through in the aftermath of the explosion was more than a person could bear, and his son Bruce was stuck for the rest of his father’s life taking care of him and seeing “he got through the day.” We agreed that Bruce was not dumb or slow in school but had so many home duties and responsibilities he couldn’t study or even make the effort to excel in school like Delys did. We agreed that Delys sometimes looked down on Bruce as lesser than she, as “sweet, but not very smart.”
  3. Would you want to follow these characters in the future? We did not discuss this as a group, but personally, I felt the author brought the adult characters together after the war in a fascinating scene, where they had their “moment” together. One member mentioned that it was “convenient” that Bruce had sex with Delys before telling her he was “done” with their relationship. We agreed that although the ending was not, “and they lived happily ever after,” that it was a satisfactory and realistic one. Several argued that Delys was an independent woman, very satisfied with her home, her life, and her position and that she did not need a man in her life–not even Bruce–to make her life complete. Whether this was selfishness or independence, we could not decide.

4. What about the relationship between the characters in the book? Interestingly enough,      some of us thought that Delys, with all her obsessing and daydreaming over Bruce and their make-out sessions, made up or imagined some of the scenes in the book. We all agreed that Delys’s idealized version of Bruce’s devotion and love for her was probably constructed in her own mind. We never could decide whether Delys actually heard Bruce at the performance of the Scottish Brigade, or if it were her imagination (or willful desire) playing tricks on her. Her response, ignoring and not breaking ranks to respond demonstrated her true feelings toward Bruce and their “relationship.” the fact that she immediately left on a date with another young man reflected her indifference to Bruce and their feelings for each other. Again, it was a complex relationship, involving a complexly-drawn character, and caused the reader to give much thought to how the character had been formed by the tragedy in her life, while reading the novel.

Several of us had lived in Houston, and one grew up in a town very near New London (Her parents heard the explosion as children), so we were nit-picky about the settings. We all agreed the author had done her research admirably and had obviously traveled to both settings to be as descriptively accurate as she was.

Overall, we all liked the novel and were glad we had invested our valuable reading time in this novel.  Two of us, however, had read other books by the same author we liked better than this one.

I’d give this a five out of five stars.

The Alphabet Reading Challenge: ALL THE MISSING GIRLS, A Review

Around the next-to-the-last week in January, I took on the challenge of reading a book whose title began with each letter of the alphabet.  I did this as an overlap challenge with my January six book challenge, and have “retired” several of the letters, but not necessarily posted any reviews of the books. Today I want to review Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls. Obviously, it is a mystery, but its uniqueness lies in that it is told backwards. It was published in 2016, and I found it at Half Price Books.

Nicollete Farrell, the protagonist, receives a phone call from her brother, Daniel, saying their father is rapidly declining and asking her to come home. Ten years before, she had left Cooley Ridge, a “town full of liars,” and set out on a new path and had begun a new life. She is satisfied with her current status and her engagement to a prominent attorney.

During her teen years, her best friend, Corrine Prescott, had mysteriously disappeared, and when she returns and runs into her old boyfriend, Tyler, she meets his now-girlfriend, who also mysteriously disappears. All the memories, and all the details of Corrine’s disappearance flood back, as do old feelings for Tyler.

There are many suspects, including Tyler, her brother Daniel, and her confused and sometimes incoherent father, who have been questioned in both disappearances.  Was there foul play or another case of a teen runaway?

The story is told in reverse, “keeping readers on the edge their seats until the last page is turned.” There are too many secrets which are unburied, and the whole mess is complicated by efforts to protect and to be protected from the truth. The author presents the question, “How well can we know other people–and ourselves”?

 

SETTING FREE THE KITES by Alex George: A Review

This 2017 novel, available in large print at the Alvin Public Library, was an “impulse pick up” displayed at the library much like the impulse buys at the grocery store. My biggest compliment to the author is that the characterization (which I read for, more than plot) was outstanding. The story was set in Haverford, Maine and begins in 1976 when the narrator , Robert Carter, was attending Longfellow Middle School.

Like most middle schools, Longfellow had its bullies, specifically Hollis Calhoun, whose main purpose in life was to make Robert’s life miserable. Enter on the scene, the “new boy,” Nathan Tilly, who although small in stature, confronts Hollis and rescues Robert.  From there, a friendship is formed that supersedes Robert’s older brother’s disability and Nathan’s loss of his father shortly after moving to town. Robert’s part in this terrible accident, leaving Faye, Nathan’s mother unhinged and unhappy, is the complexity of plot and human emotion that evolves as the novel progresses. Robert is Nathan/Gatsby’s, Nick/ the narrator, as we meet the true main character, Nathan, who is described by critics as “confident, fearless,impetetous–and fascinated by kites and flying” with a “boundless capacity for optimism.”  Yes, the novel is filled with tragedies–some small, some huge–but the indomitable ability of human nature to “cope” comes through loud and clearly.

The book deals with “truths about family, desire and revenge”. Surprises come every time the reader “turns a corner.” Many are hilarious; others are sad, and some cause warm and fuzzy feelings on the part of the reader. Kites has a satisfying ending, the dialog is spot-on, and the entire book is laugh-out-loud funny.  I read it in a day and a half. I couldn’t put it down.

 

THE IMPROBABLE THEORY OF ANA AND ZAK by Brian Katcher: A Review (YA)

A book I started during the PWR Reading Marathon was The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak.  I read it in one day, picking it up off and on during a major housecleaning. (Well, yes, it was a YA novel, and a very fast read–all the more reason for choosing (AND REALLY ENJOYING) this book.)

The back cover covers it all (pun intended)  with an pictogram that includes Ana plus Zak, plus 24 hours, plus a wild SCI FI Convention, plus an impossible manhunt, plus thousands of costumed nerds, plus an angry viking, times lots of trouble, divided by first impressions, is unequal to anything they ever expected!   The quote next to the pictogram says, “Perfect comic timing and outrageous twists.” And the book delivers!  It is very, very funny, sweet, outrageous and just a darned good read.  Some subtler ideas are introduced than just the madcap 24 hour chase, but the book is never preachy. Young adults are respected and even admired, SOME adults are “almost ok”, and surprises in ALL the relationships abound.

I would recommend it to a friend of any age.