The tragic events of one summer create a tidal wave of consequences in Aster’s (True Love Story, 2013) poignant coming-of-age love story.
The summer of 1971 changes teenage Caroline Carson’s life forever. To outsiders, beautiful and bookish Caroline’s life seems perfect; in reality, it’s in shambles. Her alcoholic father has left without a trace, and her narcissistic mother soon follows suit, leaving Caroline to fend for herself. She turns to her first love, Isaiah Washington, an African-American, but finds no real comfort in him, as their interracial relationship is forbidden. Being with Isaiah makes her the target of two violent youths, who assault Caroline and leave her for dead. Fearing for her life and in search of peace, she flees her small Tennessee town. The narrative then follows Caroline as she desperately tries to find a place to call home. A love story at its core, this intensely emotional novel connects to readers on many levels as it examines the ideas of family, identity and the complicated relationships that grew out of the civil rights movement. Caroline is wracked with grief and guilt, and while she desperately wants to find a place she belongs, part of her thinks she doesn’t deserve it. It’s a deeply personal journey that feels achingly real. Accompanying Caroline is a cast of wonderfully rich characters including cantankerous Dr. H, who cares for Caroline like no one she has ever known, and the wise, benevolent Ruby. The three form an unlikely family, whose love for and devotion to one another is a bright spot in an often sorrowful tale. An important, albeit painful, examination of racism in the 1970s, the novel remains hopeful. While it’s told primarily from Caroline’s perspective, it is at times narrated by Isaiah as he struggles first to find Caroline and then to forget her. Although he’s an essential character, his chapters somewhat lack the personality of Caroline’s, falling a little flat in comparison.
Deftly balances good with evil and reaffirms that sometimes love really does conquer all.