Calendar’s debut novel is a sweet, clever story of young love in 1960s and ’70s South Carolina.
Danny McDowell and Ariel Buchanan are 9 and 5 years old, respectively, when they meet at their fathers’ company party, and their connection is instant and lasting. “Five and nine,” muse their mothers as they observe the children’s devotion to each other. “That would be one in a billion.” That four-year age gap serves as this story’s driving narrative device, and though Danny and Ariel’s relationship seems strange to begin with, the story evolves into a heartfelt, affecting exploration of friendship, love and growing up. Alone and together, Danny and Ariel face challenges large and small in their sleepy Southern town, from academic roadblocks to dying loved ones, but their greatest challenges are their feelings for each other. Some plot points and characters may feel a little too convenient, such as a benevolent but impossibly unprofessional hospital nurse who meddles in Danny and Ariel’s affairs. A subplot about their fathers’ tumultuous professional lives falls flat, and the town’s racial issues are mentioned only in passing—an odd omission, given the book’s setting. On the whole, however, Calendar delivers a meticulously constructed story, full of hairpin turns that are occasionally hokey but never predictable. The charming descriptions of the Buchanan family mansion, in particular, will be catnip enough for some readers. Most importantly, the novel rings true when depicting the authentic joys and pains of childhood and adolescence. Calendar’s easy, naturalistic dialogue is also an asset; for example, when Danny tells his mother that he hates shopping, she replies, “You’re supposed to hate shopping. It’s in the manual.” Such simple, human touches make up for occasional shortcomings in character development and lend the novel a warm, familiar atmosphere that lingers on after the final page.
A straightforward, all-American romance, elevated by sharp plotting and a companionable cast of characters.