A young Toronto girl blossoms into adulthood in Lauren Kirshner’s sweet and touching debut Where We Have to Go. Like adolescence itself, the novel contains some moments of awkward fumbling, but wins the reader over with a masterful comic touch and a canny distillation of the painful experience of growing up different. The blossomer in question is 11-year-old Lucy Bloom, a serious cat fancier and devotee of the furry extraterrestrial TV puppet ALF. Lucy spends her days trying to survive the marital foibles of her parents, an ESL teacher mom preoccupied with the Y2K bug and a father who divides his time between AA meetings and a dead-end job at a travel agency. We follow Lucy’s quirky path from puberty to first-year university. Kirshner, a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Masters of English creative-writing program, has created a perceptive and likeable protagonist in Lucy. Her observations on growing up in a struggling Jewish family offer moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity. During her parents’ trial separation, for instance, she knocks on a neighbour’s door and is greeted by an unexpected “Kabuki divorce redramatization”: a surreal mass of men and women packed into a sunken living room, all of them wearing identical red and black masks. Some of the book’s arch comedic barbs feel unlikely coming from such a young protagonist, and at times the writing is too self-consciously clever, as if Kirshner herself is channelling an adolescent’s need for validation. But in an affecting section about Lucy’s descent into an eating disorder as a teen, the author demonstrates a finely tuned control of her talents. As the girl reaches the stage at which her bones are visible through her clothing, her sense of humour measurably increases in bitterness. But eventually, all the loose ends in Lucy’s life move toward tidy resolution, and the reader is gently eased into an overtly poetic ending. Kirshner captures coming-of-age rites – from touching another girl’s breasts to the shame and alienation of high-school gym class – with just the right combination of embarrassment and wonder. The theme of survival that drives Where We Have to Go is an evocative and compelling one.
“[Where We Have to Go] wins the reader over with a masterful comic touch and a canny distillation of the painful experience of growing up different…. Kirshner has created a perceptive and likeable protagonist in Lucy. Her observations on growing up in a struggling Jewish family offer moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity…. Evocative and compelling….”
— Quill & Quire
“An impressive debut from a gifted writer.”
— NOW magazine
“Lauren Kirshner creates a first-person narrator you never stop rooting for. . . . [Where We Have to Go] highlights Kirshner as a new novelist to watch. A very strong, original debut.”
— Zoe Whittall, Globe and Mail
“Tenderly and meticulously rendered. . . . This novel is well worth reading. Lucy’s voice is smart and strong and clear, and like the young author who created her, it deserves to be heard.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“Canadian authors excel at the precocious female protagonist, and Kirshner's character is a worthy addition to the bunch.”
“Lucy's circumstances are enough to break your heart, but they'll also make you bust out laughing — Kirshner's wry humour will see to that.”
— Canadian Living
“Kirshner has a lot of talent that occasionally reaches sublime heights, plus her comic timing is spot on. Some of the characters in this novel, such as artistic Erin, are quite unique literary conceptions who are not only compelling but borderline enchanting. ”
— Edmonton Vue Weekly
"[Where We Have to Go] is a novel about resilience, the human urge to overcome sorrow, trials and tribulations... Lauren Kirshner has created a world that is believable, touching and a reminder that the journey through life, while not always pleasant, can always get better with time, growth, and understanding."
— Owen Sound Sun-Times
"Combines rich and vivid characters with evocative imagery to tell a compelling tale of adolescence. . . . Kirshner’s whole cast of artfully drawn characters maintains consistently compelling voices. . . . Kirshner uniquely captures with levity and humour the familiar (and painful) experiences of growing up different."
— The Varsity
"Deeply emotionally resonant, Where We Have to Go celebrates the very real triumphs and tribulations of teenage years with understanding and love without letting the characters off the hook for their choices. You’ll recognize yourself and those you love while getting to know the brilliantly drawn characters unique to the pages of this book."
— The Advent Book Blog: Great Books Recommended by Great People
“[Lauren Kirshner is] fast emerging as one of Toronto's most talented new authors....”
— Toronto Star