A teenage girl struggles to make sense of her father’s sudden death in this debut novel set during the mid-1970s.
This novel asks the question, “What do we really know about our loved ones?” Martie is 13 years old, pimply, curious, and nervous to the point of illness. Her anxiety has a plain cause: five months ago, her father died suddenly, and she’s been quietly suffering ever since. In large part, it’s because neither her older sister, Blaire, nor her own mother seems to want to talk to her about the traumatic event. Martie mistakes their selfish behavior—the kind that only grief can elicit—for indifference. Blaire, for example, seems to be acting out all the time, and Mom appears in the novel’s opening scene behind the wheel of her station wagon with “a glazed look settling deep in her eyes.” Before things can reach a point of crisis, Mom decides to take the kids out of the family’s house (“Dad was in the woodwork”) and up to Milwaukee, where their new lives tentatively begin. This traditional domestic drama benefits from Holland’s control over true-to-life touches, such as the concealer around Mom’s eyes. However, the author’s attention to her characters and their relationships is nearly undone by a glut of period detail and subplots. The most engaging storyline—in which Martie doubts her mother’s version of how Dad died—isn’t allowed to breathe; instead, it competes with a kidnapping, a witch-related subplot, and the unfolding Watergate scandal, all of which blur together in Martie’s breathless narration. Fortunately, Holland steps out of Martie’s thoughts long enough to show her characters in action, and in these moments, she demonstrates her honest sensitivity to the extremes of youthful vanity and the limits of parental responsibility.
A warm novel that tries to buck the conventions of traditional family drama but may struggle to hold readers’ attention.