Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book Review: "Labor Day" by Joyce Maynard

It's Labor Day weekend in the small town of Holton Mills, NH. Thirteen-year-old Henry lives a fairly solitary existence with his divorced mother, Adele, a former dancer who has retreated further and further into herself over the years. Henry knows his mother is unhappy and unlike other mothers (she usually waits in the car and sends Henry to do her errands, she eschews friends and a job) but refuses to tear her down to his father and stepmother.

And one day everything changes. While at a store, Henry is approached by Frank, an escaped convict. Frank is bleeding and in pain, and asks Henry if he can get a ride with him and his mother. Adele doesn't think twice about helping Frank, and gladly allows him to take control of the situation, even letting him stay with them. Frank acts as a pseudo father figure to Henry, teaching him how to catch a baseball, even giving him lessons on life. And Henry watches as Frank's presence transforms Adele into the person Henry remembered, one who danced and was full of life. He knows that Frank poses a threat to his relationship with his mother (he is fairly convinced that the two will escape one day and leave him to live with his father), and is torn between the desire to turn Frank in for the reward and the opportunity to be a "normal" family. The few days change every one of them in unimaginable ways.

I read this book with a tremendous sense of anticipation and dread. Even as I felt fairly certain I knew where the plot would go, Maynard threw in some surprises. She took basic characters—the lonely housewife, the wise convict, the insecure boy on the cusp of manhood—and imbued them with new life. I was torn between racing through the story and wanting to savor it, although I needed to know how Maynard would resolve things. This was a memorable and affecting book.

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