Meet Lucy. She's an imaginative 11-year-old whose parents are on the verge of splitting up. Her father is a failed glamour photographer and a travel agent who doesn't travel. He's also a recovering alcoholic battling his personal demons at weekly AA meetings. Her mother is larger-than-life, a former beauty queen in her native Bulgaria and a lover of the antique mannequins that represent their little family. As her parents continue to fight, Lucy begins to grasp that all is not well in her household, and when another woman is introduced into the volatile mix, Lucy and her mother move out of the house in pursuit of a better life. The story continues to follow Lucy and her family as they work through the pain of infedelity, the uncertainty of trying to become a family again, her grandfather's illness, anorexia and the inability to fit in in high school. We watch her grow up in the 1990's, and eventually she blossoms into a young college student with a new outlook on life.
"Where We Have to Go" is an absolutely beautiful coming-of-age story. In the beginning Lucy is a gawky girl on the verge of adolescence with no breasts to speak of and the habit of counting things to ward off bad events. This hint of her obsessive-compulsiveness develops into full-blown anorexia in her teen years when she realizes that she doesn't fit in at school. This part hit particularly close to home for me. I didn't have anorexia in school, but I certainly didn't fit in with the popular girls, despite my desire to. Reading this book brought all of that awkwardness back, along with a sense of relief that I am now past my teenage years and am a (relatively) well-adjusted adult. Lauren Kirshner manages to take those feelings of highschool aniexty and channels them into some great material.
Her characters were also really well-developed, particularly the character of Lucy's grandfather. He was a secondary character, but I could picture him, especially when he leans his cane against the wall of his nursing home, pretending that he doesn't need it, so that he can hit on the pretty young nurses. Lauren Kirshner has written a great debut novel, one that will beg to be read again.
Where do we go from Here is a thoroughly enjoyable coming of age tale full of quirky characters, humour and angst. This story shines a light on some of the darker realities of a faultering marriage from a child's perspective and the long lasting effects of such a tumultuous upbringing. This novel could have been much more grim but Kirshner handles the fine line between humour and somber so deftly that the serious issues never come across as being made light of, which is a testament to her writing and something I greatly appreciated.
Anyone who had ever felt self conscious as a child or teen, or felt themselves odd or quirky or an outsider or had ever held their hands over their ears to ease parental bickering will be able to relate to this novel. Lucy Bloom is a wonderful protagonist. She's so cute and quirky and sad that you can't help but be empathetic towards her and as I watched her life grew more complicated as she navigates her teens, I found myself cringing and wanting to scream at her and everyone around her. And then on the next page I would find myself chortling or with a grin on my face. It was so well written in this aspect that I loved the constant anticipation of what emotion I would feel next.
As an only child, Lucy is left to navigate her parent's marriage through infidelity, separation and reuniting. There is much in this novel that is heartbreaking, but I always felt undercurrents of hope. I continuously rooted for Lucy and her family all the way through this novel and wanted to shake her parents to keep their issues from her and to actually see what she was going through. I could never figure out where Lucy would end up in life and I loved that.
Having grown up through the 70's, 80's and 90's, I loved the feeling of nostalgia Where do we go From Here brought. Along with all the childhood memories were many Canadianisms and Toronto references, which is always a bonus for me with any novel.
Where do we go from Here was a fabulous debut novel and I will definitely read another by Lauren Kirshner.
Thank you to McClelland and Stewart for our review copy. All opinions are our own.
I loved the voice in this book; its authenticity, the rawness of emotion. Kirschner goes straight to the heart of adolescent experience with insight, a gentle humour, and an astute understanding of the complexities of the young woman's soul. A wonderful read.