BOOK REVIEW: Florida by Lauren Groff


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The main character in Lauren Groff’s 2018 short story collection is not a person, but rather a state, described by her as “an Eden of dangerous things.” Gators, bugs, swamps, panthers, storms and criminals make up the physical hazards, but in Florida danger is just as likely to be ideological and societal.

Groff’s human characters include two sisters abandoned on an island, a young woman living in her car, a determined homeowner who hunkers down in a hurricane, and a conflicted mother of two who appears frequently throughout the book. Their lives are not connected, or even similar, except for the fact that all of their existences are intricately tied to the lush, humid, and tempestuous land of Florida.

Some have moved to Florida after childhoods up North, others were born and bred on the land. Either way, they have all experienced the physical hardships and sociological struggles of the American South, and have dealt with it in a variety of bizarre and ingenious ways.

Something about the Florida of Groff’s description feels ominous, malignant even, as though the whole state is shrouded in shadow and mist. She draws her reader’s attention away from the crystal clear water and white sand beaches of Miami and amusement parks of Orlando to focus instead on small neighborhoods on the cusp of poverty and campuses of rapidly expanding universities. Even when her characters leave Florida – in one case to visit Paris – they are plagued by the knowledge of having to return, but also drawn to the place they have come to know as home.

But if Groff gives the semblance that Florida is Hitchcockian, she offsets it by describing in glimmering detail the beauty and lushness of the state, and the resilience of the people living in it. Her characters withstand sexism, racism, violence and poverty, and they do so without fanfare or cries for attention. They refuse large sums of money in favour of protecting their property from developers and survive ordeals at the extremes of human ability. Florida has made them as strong as they are weary.

Groff’s turns of phrase are a large part of the delight of Florida. Neighbours windows become “domestic aquariums” under her keen observation, and relationships falter under the microscope of her writing. No detail is too small for her descriptions, no note too strange for her sentences. She captures the grotesque and the beautiful with equal eloquence, creating plots full of contradiction and mystery.  

Florida is a love story to a state, and a deeply introspective study of what it means to think critically about the place you live. Groff’s writing is dreamy and ethereal, and will pull you in right from the opening pages. She writes from firsthand knowledge, as she herself lives in the state of Florida, and the book feels timely amidst the current political strife about immigration, crime and racism. She explores what it means to be American, and how the United States is seen by other countries around the world. Her depiction of America is searing, but at time also funny and entertaining.

The takeaway from this book? Whatever it is Lauren Groff has to say, I will absolutely be ready to listen. Florida is a beautiful book that’s incredibly original and beautifully written.

BOOK REVIEW: Homesick For Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh


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Ottessa Moshfegh is arguably the most grotesque and gruesome of popular contemporary writers. Her stories are cringe-worthy, creepy and sometimes downright upsetting, but told in biting, bold and luminous prose. The juxtaposition between the stomach-turning content and the beautiful writing makes her work all the more intriguing, and her short story collection Homesick For Another World is no exception.

Last year Moshfegh released her second novel, titled My Year of Rest and Relaxation, to wide critical acclaim and commercial success. The book, which tells the story of a young woman who hates the world so much that she decides to sleep for a year, rung true with an audience of young, disillusioned women who could oddly enough relate to the narrator’s plight. What stood out about the book was the contradiction between the young woman’s life – she was beautiful, had money to spare, and lived in New York City – and the bitter, apathetic lens through which she saw the world.

Many of the characters in Homesick For Another World are like this as well. They see the world as a place of darkness and solitude, and are experts in self-pity. Despite being unlikeable – and at times extremely gross or creepy – all of the characters are compelling. They are people so different from what we’re normally presented in literature that it’s almost impossible to turn away from them. Moshfegh’s stories often revolve around middle-class or lower-middle-class adults who live in squalid conditions and develop odd habits. She explores sexuality and psychology and aging, and each story is filled with a type of humour that’s both dark and extremely entertaining.


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My favourite story of the bunch was Beach Boy, which begins in the latter half. A middle-aged man and his wife return from a beautiful island trip where they celebrated their anniversary. When the wife unexpectedly dies of an aneurysm, the husband uncovers some upsetting information about her that changes the way he sees their relationship. Beach Boy is one of the least grotesque stories in the book, and that alone made it feel like a bit of a reprieve – it was almost like the story was an island amidst the rest of the churning, brutal plots. But still it held true to Moshfegh’s darkness, offering insight into the lives of seemingly normal people who are actually just as deranged as the rest of us.

Another story, called A Better Place, is about two young children who believe that if they murder the right person, they’ll be transported to a mythical “better place” where their lives will be filled with wonder and excitement. The narrator, a young girl, is frightening in her intensity, and has disturbing habits like calling her mother “The Woman” and muttering to herself at the kitchen table. The sinister plot and cliff-hanger ending give A Better Place the feel of a horror story.

There are no dud stories in the bunch, although some fell more toward the periphery of what I consider interesting and consumable.  A few times throughout Homesick For Another World I found myself wondering how on earth a person could come up with the freakish ideas Moshfegh seems to adept at writing about. It felt almost improper to be reading about fictional characters’ perversions, and several times while reading in public I felt I had to close the book in case someone starting reading over my shoulder. But feeling like you’re peering through someone’s window into their privates lives is exactly what Moshfegh intends. She’s simply showing us that we’re all interesting in the darkest aspects of life, even if we’ve become very good at pretending we’re not.

BOOK REVIEW: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally


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As a die hard fan of the sitcom Parks and Recreation, picking up a copy of The Greatest Love Story Ever Told - written by the real life couple who play Ron Swanson and Tammy 2 on the show - required no prompting. Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally are funny, talented, and have always seemed to me to be genuinely in love and likeable. After a painful period of lingering on my local library’s wait list, I was finally able to lay my hands on this beautiful book just over a week ago.

What I found inside its pages didn’t disappoint me, although I will say the format of the book took me by surprise. Alternating between short essays penned by Megan and Nick and transcriptions of conversations the couple have had on topics like their first meeting and their dogs, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told offers a comprehensive history of their relationship and the things that have kept them together. They delve deep into their family histories and, in Megan’s case, complex parent-child relationships that have greatly shaped her life.

Having become a fan of Nick’s because of Parks and Rec, my favourite part of reading this book was learning more about Megan’s backstory and her own incredibly successful acting career. She is a multiple Emmy Award-winning actress and an accomplished broadway singer and dancer. I loved reading about her childhood and adolescence in a ballet company, and how she didn’t find critical and commercial success until she was nearly 40.

It’s funny how, as consumers of film and television, we often fail to separate actors from the characters they play. This is absolutely true for me with Nick Offerman. When I see him in anything other than Parks and Rec I always say, “Oh looks it’s Ron Swanson!” Nick and Megan, who has gone through the same phenomenon with her beloved character Karen on Will & Grace, explain what it’s like to be so closely linked to a fictional person, and how it has both benefitted and hindered their careers. It’s very interested to read their dissections of fame, wealth and the reality of having thousands of fans.


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Historically I haven’t been a big fan of celebrity memoirs. I don’t really enjoy reading advice from people who have so much more money and so many more resources that I do. For example, hearing about a millionaires’ skin care routine doesn’t really help me as someone who probably can’t afford to go out and buy the products they recommend. And in some instances its hard to relate to what Nick and Megan experience. In one essay in particular, Megan offers advice on decluttering and believing in oneself, and it feels slightly misguided for her to claim that good things come if you just believe they will, considering the fact that many people are born into circumstances beyond their control.

The few sections of the book, like the one mentioned above, that I didn’t enjoy were quickly offset by hilarious and endearing chapters where the couple recounted embarrassing and cute moments in their relationship. Despite their wealth and success, they still enjoy doing puzzles, listening to audiobooks, woodworking, and other normal hobbies that make them feel more relatable. I was particularly drawn in by their descriptions of what it’s like to constantly have fans asking for pictures and only wanting to get a photo for the social media cred it gives them.

Overall, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told is a fun, uplifting and relaxing read. I brought it with me on my recent trip to Havana, Cuba, and it was fantastic to read something so positive and upbeat during my holiday. If you like celebrity memoirs or if you’re interested in learning about the complexities about being famous, this is the book for you.


Disclaimer: Below I have added a purchase link for this book through my Amazon affiliated account. If you make a purchase through this link I will earn a small commission. Than you for reading my review.

BOOK REVIEW: Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney


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An extramarital affair and a devastating diagnosis are the main story lines of Sally Rooney’s debut novel Conversations With Friends, bridged together by the whip-smart commentary of a young woman whose life is deeply affected by both.

Twenty-one year old Irish students Frances and Bobbi are best friends, former lovers, and the new pet project of well-known writer and photographer Melissa. After seeing them perform spoken-word poetry at an open-mic night, Melissa approaches the pair in hopes of writing a story about their work. Flattered by the attention and slightly intimidated by Melissa’s success, the two girls agree to the arrangement and find themselves drawn into Melissa’s exciting orbit. Frances, the more timid of the two, finds herself drawn to Melissa’s husband Nick, a B-list actor with whom she begins an affair. As their romance becomes more difficult to hide, Frances also grapples with her changing relationship with Bobbi and an endometriosis diagnosis that leaves her in constant pain and apprehensive of the future.

Conversations With Friends isn’t about likeable people. Frances is self-obsessed, and as her relationship with Nick deepens it becomes clear she has little emotional maturity. Her lack of guilt for the affair and seeming inability to admit the extent of her feelings to Nick cause her to act in brazen ways that hurt those closest to her, Bobbi in particular. Nick, who is more than ten years her senior and yet infinitely less intellectual, can’t seem to tame her youthful ignorance, causing deep rifts in their relationship taped over with physical intimacy and the excitement of doing something wrong.

Frances is a brilliantly complex leading character. Incredibly intelligent and promisingly talented, she seems to have the whole world at her fingertips. But instead of finding pleasure in the exciting opportunities thrown her way, Frances faces each new life event with a mixture of apathy and detachment. She revels in her own intellect, and yet often refuses to apply it. She frequently dwells in an unhealthy pool of self-pity, only reflecting on her own actions when forced to by those she cares most about. She is a character that epitomizes what it means to be a young adult in 2019.

In one particularly insightful passage, Frances finally digs deep down to acknowledge her emotional shortcomings, but only because Nick has expressed frustration with her behaviour:

“I wasn’t used to being attacked like this and it was frightening. I thought of myself as an independent person, so independent that the opinions of others were irrelevant to me. Now I was afraid that Nick was right: I isolated myself from criticism so I could behave badly without losing my sense of righteousness.”

Linguistically and literarily it’s a lovely passage, but in a sociological way it’s also deeply revealing of what it’s like for young people to have to face their own shortcomings in a world that so often shields them from criticism. Frances, whose apathy and ability to hide her feelings have sheltered her for so long, has suddenly been exposed to the world of people a decade older than her who won’t cater to her bullshit.


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At 27, Sally Rooney is quite young to have written two very well-received books (her second novel Normal People will be available in Canada in April and was nominated for last years’ Booker Prize). But perhaps her age has been the centre of too much attention, because it is not her age that has made her such a phenom, but instead her ability to write about age, to capture the ambivalence of youth and the melancholy of becoming older. She does this by transforming her writing into the most millennial and youthful of forms: text message exchanges.

The most stimulating passages of Conversations With Friends are the short snippets of text conversations between Frances and Bobbi, whose intellectualism reads as condescending, self-absorbed, and unfailingly genuine.

Me: capitalism harnesses “love” for profit

Me: love is the discursive practice and unpaid labour is the effect

Me: but I meant, I get that, and I’m anti love as such

Bobbi: that’s vapid Frances

Bobbi: you have to do more than say you’re anti things

In these short exchanges, which appear infrequently throughout the novel, Rooney strikes at the core of what it is to be young. She explores how easily students get lost in the current a-la-mode ideologies and use them in manipulative, misguided ways, but also how wholeheartedly they believe in what they’re saying and doing. Frances assumes her actions can’t hurt Nick because he is a man, and Bobbi because she is rich, but fails to recognize that both people, regardless of their status in life and the current political climate, are only human.

As Frances comes to terms with her illness, she in many ways begins to soften around the edges. It forces her to reconsider things like intimacy, family, religion and self-perception. She starts to adapt to her new situation and late in the book we see a new side of her for the first time, although it’s hard to know if the changes will stick. It’s refreshing to see a writer take on endometriosis and weave it into a story without making it the only thing that matters. It’s a common, thought deeply painful and debilitating illness, and it’s interesting to see how Frances’ life changes and yet also goes on as she learns to live with it.

Conversations With Friends will greatly appeal to anyone who enjoyed My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh or Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. It’s a highly entertaining and beautifully written novel for the modern age.


Disclaimer: I have attached a purchase link for Conversations With Friends below. This link is part of my affiliate account with Amazon, and if you make a purchase I will receive a small commission.

BOOK REVIEW: Remember Me by D.E. White

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Dislcaimer: an advance digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher (HarperCollins UK) in exchange for my honest review. Remember Me will be published on February 6th.

Fifteen years after the disappearance of her best friend on what seemed like a regular night of partying, Ava Cole returns to the small Welsh village she grew up in to finally share the truth about what happened that fateful night. Now a police detective living in California, Ava is determined to find justice for her friend. Forced to face the son she left behind and the friends she broke ties with many years before, Ava finds that her presence is less than welcome in the tight-knit community, especially by a mysterious individual set on running her out of town before she can unveil the truth.

Remember Me is a promising police procedural that falls slightly short of gripping. While driven by a smart, interesting plot and a compelling main character, the book is a little too long to hold the readers’ attention and a little too ambitious to feel fully cohesive and straightforward. Side plots involving reality television shows and shaky romantic relationships take away from the central mystery and concise writing style.

Steadfast procedural readers will enjoy Remember Me, finding it similar to other whodunnit novels involving friend groups like She Lies In Wait and female-driven crime stories like Sweet Little Lies. Remember Me is entertaining, enjoyable, and original enough to not fall flat in comparison to the thousands of other crime novels on the market. The plot holds up and the loose ends are neatly tied, and even with the many distractions White introduces throughout the story, readers will feel driven to finish the book and uncover the truth.

The one real pitfall of Remember Me is how White never takes full advantage of the scenery and atmosphere at her disposal. The snowy countryside of Wales is the perfect setting for a crime story, but its’ description feels disjointed and confusing, and it will be hard for readers to create a real image in their minds of what Ava’s backdrop looks like.

Remember Me’s many characters can be difficult to keep track of at some points, especially as suspects wrack up and Ava begins to reintroduce herself to the people of the small town she once left behind. That being said, if you read carefully and pay close attention, you’ll find the book to be filled with interesting people and many potential clues. It’s the kind of book where you’ll find yourself constantly adding new names to the top of your suspect list only to discover later on it has to be someone else.

The ending of the novel is quite satisfying, and offers the right tone and conclusion for a crime novel. Overall Remember Me is a strong story.

BOOK REVIEW: A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles


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I knew I was in love with Amor Towles’ writing when, in the opening pages of his novel A Gentleman In Moscow, he referred to a pigeon as having a “decidedly proprietary air.”

This was the first of hundreds of lovely turns of phrase and literary delights to unfold over the course of the nearly 500 page novel about a man’s life within the walls of a famed Russian hotel. With the humour, curiosity and surprising depth of a Wes Andersen film, Towles has penned a masterpiece about parenthood, redemption, and love for ones’ country. A Gentleman In Moscow has joined the ranks of my favourite books of all time, and I’m about to tell you why.

In the 1920s, 30-year-old Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to live the rest of his life under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. His crime? Being an unrepentant aristocrat. Over the remaining decades of his life, the Count befriends a series of peculiar and charming hotel workers and visitors who fill his small world with light, laughter, and adventure. Despite his restricted reality, Count Rostov comes to realize life is not about the amount of space within which one can move around, but rather how one fills the space he is given in life.

Should you feel slightly deterred by the premise, know that the limited setting in which Towles must work does not hinder his ability to pepper the novel with gun fights, spying, blackmail, thievery, incredible cuisine, deep friendship, beautiful romance, an adept mixologist, a goose being thrown out a window, and a man who has befriended a hive of bees.


“There was Andrey with his perfect poise and long judicious hands, Vasily, the hotel’s inimitable concierge; and Marina, the shy delight with the wandering eye who had recently been promoted from chambermaid to seamstress.”

- Amor Towles, A Gentleman In Moscow


The list of strengths I could write up for this novel would go on and on: the beautiful writing, the incredible characters, the vibrant setting and witty humour. Count Rostov is a main character every reader will be able to root for. His charm and wit are matched by his kindness and adaptability, and as he ages throughout the story he becomes only more relatable and endearing. His punishment never truly feels like a sentence because he is able to make the most of it and see the light in his bleak situation.

A Gentleman In Moscow covers decades of complicated Russian history, and Towles navigates the polarizing political context with grace. He explores the Counts’ deep connection to his homeland and perfectly demonstrates how a man can still love a country that has wronged him. Readers will be pleased to see references to important Russian figures they recognize, but will also come away with new knowledge and understanding, and perhaps even a newly sparked interest in the history of a country that has been frequently misunderstood.

While I could continue to write for many hours about the beauty of this novel, I think it is best to end my review by simply letting Mr. Towles writing speak for itself:


“For what matters is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

- Amor Towles, A Gentleman In Moscow


BOOK REVIEW: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Setting is everything in Delia Owens’ debut novel Where The Crawdads Sing. North Carolina’s coastal marsh takes centre stage in this beautiful and heartbreaking story about family, judgment, and one girl’s magical relationship with her homeland.

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Born in the mid-20th century, Kya Clark has always been a force of nature. Growing up in poverty in the swampy forests of the southern east coast, her one true love has always been the land. As her brothers and sisters all depart to search for better lives, Kya eventually finds herself alone in her tiny family home, struggling to survive at an age when she is barely able to work or fend for herself. For years she is isolated from her peers and harshly judged by a society she has no desire to be a part of. Nicknamed “The Marsh Girl” by the people of a nearby town, Kya spends her adolescence hiding from those who don’t understand her, only ever opening up to two very different men who want two very different things from her.

When a young, popular man turns up dead in the marsh, the townspeople immediately suspect Kya, using her unusual way of life as evidence of wrongdoing. As she struggles to defend herself and reclaim her home, Kya is put through an ordeal she may never overcome. Part crime story, part love story, and part natural history lesson, Where The Crawdads Sing is a masterpiece of literary storytelling.

Owens, while a first-time novelist, is no stranger to writing. She has co-authored three books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa, and has won several major awards for her work. Her knowledge and insight into the many mysteries of nature shine through in Where The Crawdads Sing, which in many ways is written as a love story to a part of the world that many people don’t understand.

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Owens’ writing is eloquent and flowy, and fits perfectly with the themes of the novel, which include isolation and judgment and the misperceptions people develop of anything or anyone who might be different. Kya’s universe exists on a very small parcel of land, but Owens writing transforms the marsh into a living, breathing, vibrant ecosystem in which her main character can spend decades and yet never lose interest or her sense of excitement. Kya’s strange habits – talking to pigeons and jetting around alone in her boat – lose their strangeness as the reader comes to love her and understand her past.

Despite her two romantic relationships which feature prominently in the plot of the novel, Kya is never a character defined by her love life. She is independent – although not always desiring to be – and strong, and can fend for herself better than any other person she knows. Nothing in life has come easily to her, and her hard work and openness to the unusual are what have sustained her in a life of loneliness and hardship. The most beautiful part of Where The Crawdads Sing are the passages in which Kya first learns to read, despite only ever having attended school for one day. It is magical to follow along as her world is opened up beyond the confines of her small house and little boat.

Where The Crawdads Sing defies categorization, dipping its toes into various genres including literary fiction, mystery, romance and historical fiction. There really is something for everyone in this book, and I’ll end my review by signing off with nothing but the highest praise.


Disclaimer: Below I have attached a purchase link for Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. If you click through a purchase this book I will receive a small commission from Amazon which will go towards keeping my website updated. Thank you for reading my review.

BOOK REVIEW: A Death In The Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard


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In one extensive passage of his autobiographical novel A Death in the Family, Karl Ove Knausgaard describes in depth the events leading up to a New Year’s Eve celebration he attended in his youth. Over dozens of pages, Knausgaard explains the frustrations of trying to buy alcohol, sort out plans, find a ride, and weasel his way into a better party. The passage has no immediately clear purpose, other than to demonstrate what it was like to grow up as he did, and, were it not for Knausgaards’ uncanny way with words, would be so dull as to put readers to sleep.

But despite being separated from my own adolescent experience by a generation and an ocean, Knausgaard’s New Year’s ordeal resonated strongly with me. The mundanities of youth, which at the time feel unbelievably exciting and important, seem to be a worldwide phenomenon. Those days of scrambling to find alcohol and hoping to be invited to a party are not so far in my past, and yet when I read A Death In The Family I felt the same mild embarrassment Knausgaard now experiences when he looks back on his youth. This is the secret to his literary success, this ability to so perfectly capture what it is to be alive not in the exciting times, but rather in the mundane, boring everyday moments, and then to critique them through the lens of aging.

I heard about A Death In The Family through a co-worker. She described it as a Norwegian literary phenomenon that has caused uproar for its detailed and unsparing descriptions of real people and real events. I Googled it, as one does, and spent hours reading about Knausgaard and the fame he has achieved through the writing of his six-part autobiographical series. A Death In The Family, the first book in the series, deals mostly with his complicated relationship with his father, and the subsequent turmoil he endures when his father dies.


“In recent years the feeling that the world was small and that I grasped everything in it had grown stronger and stronger in me, and that despite my common sense telling me that actually the reverse was true: the world was boundless and unfathomable, the number of events infinite, the present time an open door that stood flapping in the wind of history.” - Karl Ove Knausgaard, A Death In The Family


A Death In The Family has no clear narrative structure. Knausgaard bounces between times and places, constantly introducing new people and stories. His sentences and paragraphs are often long and rambling. Few of his anecdotes have clear endings or meanings. It seems he sat down one day at his computer and simply decided to talk about his life in any way that pleased him and, unbelievably, the result was a masterpiece.

Knausgaard lays bare feelings and thoughts most people would not dare to express – the annoyance he sometimes feels when his children bother him, the possibility he doesn’t really love his wife, the idea it would be better if his father were dead. It is impossible not to question his morality as you read, to wonder if it wouldn’t be better for his loved ones if he didn’t share so much. But at the same time his bold declarations are a refreshing change from the uptight, highly edited autobiographies and memoirs and self helps books that line bookstore shelves in North America. Knausgaard’s story offers no suggestions on how to live, instead leaving readers to their own devices to choose how to use and learn from his experiences.

A Death In The Family is a fascinating character study and insight into human nature. It’s long and mundane at times, but Knausgaard’s ramblings only add to what he is ultimately trying to accomplish.

BOOK REVIEW: There There by Tommy Orange


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In the opening pages of his debut novel, Tommy Orange weaves a story not of fiction, but of history. In visceral, searing, and beautifully simplistic style, Orange explains the circumstances Indigenous North Americans are born into. Gun violence, inter-generational trauma, alcoholism, disease – no brutal, heart-wrenching topic is left untouched in the blistering opening essay. This brief preface, and another similar interlude mid-way through the novel, set the stage for a story about colonialism and the lasting effects it has left on Indigenous communities across the continent.

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“When we go to tell our stories, people think we want it to have gone different. People want to say things like ‘sore losers’ and ‘move on already,’ ‘quit playing the blame game.’ But is it a game? Only those who have lost as much as we have see the particularly nasty slice of smile on someone who thinks they’re winning when they say ‘get over it’.” - Tommy Orange, There There

There There is a story about stories. Over the course of the 300 page novel, at least a dozen characters are introduced and their backstories explored. One is a young man hoping to secure a grant to make a documentary, another is an older woman who struggles with addiction and her decision to give up a child years before. While many of them don’t know each other at the beginning, they are all intricately connected by a web of shared history and trauma. Each of them, for their own personal reasons, is planning to attend the Big Oakland Powwow, where their experiences will intersect in life-altering ways.

“We all came to the Big Oakland Powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid – tied to the back of everything we’d been doing all along to get us here. We’ve been coming from miles. And we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in brayer and handwoven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.” - Tommy Orange, There There

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There are many plotlines to follow and personalities to remember, and Orange asks a lot of his readers. But topics like the ones presented in There There – colonization and trauma and illness – are not the stuff of relaxing beach-reads. Orange’s high expectations for his readers are necessary. The jumping timelines and points of view require attention, and attention is something so many of us have failed to give to marginalized communities throughout history.

Despite its important content, There There wouldn’t work without Orange’s strong and elegant writing. With so many characters to juggle and such a complex plot, this novel could easily have been a failure. But Orange pulls each thread together deftly and with flare, showcasing originality in his writing that makes it almost incomparable to anything else.

There There's ending, while fitting perfectly with the rest of the story, is not satisfying - and it is not intended to be. It is a novel of sadness and hardship and moments of hope. It is a book about the various ways in which people react to the situations they are forced into, and the reality that no response to difficulty can be perfectly categorized as right or wrong, because so many small events have formed the path to the decision that was made.

This book is a must-read. It is educational and original, and written in a style that will draw readers in and leave them raw and contemplative. There There will make you think about the changes you can make in your life to be more accepting and accommodating and helpful, and that is it’s real strength.

If you liked this you might also like:

  • Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

  • Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga