Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Book Review: "An Exaltation of Larks" by Suanne Laqueur

To borrow from a language spoken periodically in this book, Madre de Dios, este libro! (Mother of God, this book!)

"Second chances are given or made."

In 1973, 11-year-old Alejandro Penda is living in Chile in the midst of a military coup. Both of his parents are arrested, and Alejo doesn't know if he'll ever see them again. With the help of family friends, he escapes to America, to live with his uncle in the upstate New York town of Guelisten. Although the trauma of what he lived through, and his grief over his parents, is tremendously difficult for him, he finds himself becoming very close to the Larks, a large, active, warm family that is friends with his uncle.

Alex becomes best friends with Roger Lark, and he and the Larks' oldest daughter, Valerie, have a love/hate relationship which turns into infatuation when Valerie returns home from college. But although she and Alex are drawn to each other, they give each other the freedom to live their own lives for a while, with Val becoming a successful costume designer in New York, and Alex studying veterinary medicine in Colorado.

Javier Landes had a tumultuous childhood growing up in Queens. When a bout of teenage experimentation is discovered, he loses his family and is forced to make his own way. Through a chance meeting with an older woman, Jav becomes a successful male escort—he's always in demand, highly skilled, and well-versed to meet the needs of his clients. But the only thing that is missing is a love of his own, although he isn't sure exactly what he wants.

Alex and Val first meet Jav in New York City when they're in their 20s. These meetings leave indelible impressions on all three, and their interactions take on different dimensions and intensities before they go their separate ways. Through the years each experiences their own set of tragedies and challenges—Val and Alex together as a married couple, while Jav tries to find his way and his heart's true path.

Years later the three are reunited when Jav comes to Guelisten, after being named the guardian of his orphaned nephew. The three become inseparable, more like family than friends, and together they weather some difficult challenges, and learn some tough truths about one another. But it's the secrets they keep from one another, the feelings they try to keep hidden, the needs each person has that threaten to untie their bonds and unmoor them forever.

An Exaltation of Larks absolutely blew me away. This is a 500-page book and I literally stayed up until 1:30 a.m. because I desperately needed to finish it. This is a story about friends that become family as well as the often-blurred lines between friendship and love. It's a story about how we can never completely outrun the traumas we face, and some times our struggles are more difficult than others, yet life is worth living to the fullest, surrounded by those you love. This is also a book about the challenges of parenthood, the trust that is so key to the success of long-term relationships, and what it is like to feel like you keep missing your chance at happiness.

I absolutely loved these characters, every single one of them. Suanne Laqueur has such love and respect for them as well that she fleshed them out so skillfully and gave them so much complexity that I found myself feeling the same way about them that the other characters did. Yes, there are one or two coincidences that made me roll my eyes a tiny bit, but they didn't detract from the beauty of Laqueur's storytelling or the emotions she made me feel.

There are a few incidences of animals getting injured or dying, due to political unrest and accidents. Those scenes may be difficult for some to read or may make some avoid the book altogether, but I skimmed them and didn't miss anything.

This is a big, gorgeous story that would make an amazing movie, but it is one heck of a book. I'll certainly be ready very soon to read the sequel, A Charm of Finches, because I already miss these characters and I just finished the book less than 24 hours ago. In short, I fell in love with this book. All in.

The author provided me a copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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