An idealist wrestles with the austere realities of life beyond the safe confines of her college campus.
Holly Lundgren, a junior biology major at the University of Minnesota, hails from a long-standing family tradition of activism in the pursuit of social justice. She’s inspired to volunteer for an increasingly powerful organization, All People’s Lives Matter, but is disillusioned by the questionable character of one of the movement’s leaders. Holly intends to marry her boyfriend, despite her general lack of enthusiasm and his infidelity, but then abandons those plans when she meet’s a similarly idealistic law student, Brandon Olsen, whom she marries quickly in the face of her mother’s vociferous objections. Brandon is badly injured in a car accident and turns to booze as a salve for his chronic pain because he can’t afford prescription medication. Holly becomes pregnant and is compelled to take a job cleaning a hotel, work both backbreaking and demoralizing for a former academic star. Holly is able to briefly pull them out of financial dire straits by selling her design for a more supportive flip-flop, but that venture eventually flounders, and she’s forced to leave Brandon and move back in with her mother, Vera. Then Vera reveals some startling family secrets and tells her about a decades-old mystery. McCoy (Plums for the Flawed Soul: A Guide to Peace, Serenity, and Forgiveness, 2016, etc.) seems intent on unpacking the psychological dynamic that fuels youthful idealism, but both the plot and the characters are so messily drawn it’s never entirely clear what point is ultimately being made. Holly, shrill and emotionally unstable, appears utterly incapable of even the simplest long-term decision-making, driven by whim rather than ideology. Her character is 20 years old but seems considerably younger given her ostentatiously arrested development. And the plot is a pastiche of dramatic crescendos largely disconnected from each other, a series of narrative spikes without any intermittent valleys. The author has a flair for soap-operatic twists and turns, but there doesn’t seem to be a main story for such twists to diverge from. This is a short book—more a novella than a novel—but it’s still unlikely to keep most reads engaged to the end.
An ambitious and topical effort about a young activist, but it’s melodramatic and erratically structured.