In 1956, in the suburbs of Boston, young divorcée Ava Lark is struggling to make it. She and her 12-year-old son, Lewis, are the only Jewish family in the neighborhood (and their neighbors don't hesitate to share their Jewish stereotypes), and one of only two families living without a man, although the other family lost their patriarch when he died unexpectedly. Ava dreams of a better life for her and her sonshe wants to be financially stable enough to buy the house in which they live; she wants a steady job, a happy son, friends, and romance. Yet none of it seems to go her way.
Twelve-year-old Lewis isn't quite aware of his mother's struggles, but he wishes she were more like the other mothers in the neighborhood. He wishes his father would return, or at least take him away from his life. His only solace are his two best friends, Jimmy and his older sister, Rose. The three are inseparablethe self-titled Three Musketeersand share nearly everything, although there are times when Jimmy and Lewis exclude Rose, and Rose struggles with her feelings for Lewis, who is oblivious to how she feels. The two boys dream of escaping their hometown, and have a map on which their entire future route is planned.
One afternoon, Jimmy disappears. No one knows what happened to him, but the neighborhoodin the heart of the Cold War and fears of communismsuspects everyone. Ava's life becomes scrutinized and criticized even more, her every romantic relationship open to suspicion, even the fact that Jimmy had a crush on her. For Rose and Lewis, Jimmy's disappearance turns their lives around in so many ways. Both believe he is still alive, and vow to find him, no matter how long it takes.
Year later, Rose and Lewis finally are able to solve the puzzle around Jimmy's disappearance. But they discover that while solving a mystery may bring some closure, it opens up more questions, and feelings they were never prepared to address. And these questions have ramifications into their relationships with others, including Lewis' relationship with both of his parents.
Caroline Leavitt is a fantastic writer, and I loved her earlier book, Pictures of You. She has an amazing ability to show how one tragic actionin this case, Jimmy's disappearancehas powerful ramifications for so many people for so long. While at first, I wondered why Leavitt spent so much time dwelling on Ava's character when she wasn't even the focus of the story, I realized later how the choices she and those around her made really did have an impact on everyone else.
Leavitt has a very straight-forward style. She cuts to the heart of emotions and situations without forcing you to wade through a lot of hyperbole, but her words have real power. Her depiction of 1950s and 1960s America, and the moods of everyday citizens during that time. While I felt the story took a little bit to gain momentum, I found Lewis and Rose's characters so fascinating and so tragic, and would love to know what happened to them after the book ended. (And Ava could have her own side story, focused on her adventures at the end of the book.) This was a terrific story that really moved me.
If you've never read Caroline Leavitt before, add her to your list. You'll be glad you did!