An intelligent, original coming-of-age novel from the author of The Anxiety of Everyday Objects (2004) and Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant (1994).
In the fall of 1975, Alison Glass moves from a working-class town to the tony suburb of Weston, Conn., where she begins junior high. Alison enjoys Kurt Vonnegut. Her lunches consist of health-food abominations concocted by her mother. She wears yellow plastic clogs, a floppy hat made of pink corduroy and a back brace. To say that she doesn’t fit into her new surroundings is an understatement. But Sheehan makes the wise and refreshing choice to not dwell on the indignities of junior high. Sensitive and perceptive, but not much given to self-pity, Alison is more bemused by the popular than desperate to join them. And she doesn’t need jocks and cheerleaders when she has Kate Hamilton. Beautiful, self-assured and quick with a devastating comeback, Kate transcends her school’s social scene, and her friendship protects Alison from the worst of its depredations. In any case, blonde girls in Shetland sweaters are nothing compared to the challenges Alison and Kate face at home. Alison’s scoliosis may require surgery—despite the brace, despite the New Age remedies her mother insists they try—and her parents’ marriage is falling apart. Kate’s situation is even more volatile: Her father, Tut, is a self-styled shaman and a sociopath given to cocaine-fueled rages. Sheehan’s depiction of Tut is typical of the way she creates all her characters. He’s clearly a monster—and his crushingly charismatic presence makes it more or less inevitable that this story will turn to tragedy—but he’s never a caricature. This is less loopy than the author’s previous work, but her language remains carefully off-kilter, gorgeously specific and shot through with unobtrusive wit. When she considers Kate’s hands for the first time, Alison thinks: “Her fingers were long and aristocratic, also a little red and chapped. They were the kind of fingers you’d expect on Joan of Arc or some other capable yet elegant heroine.”
Lyrical, assured, heartbreaking.