I say this all the time
, but I am sucker for a good coming-of-age tale. Give a kid a difficult time that forces him or her to deal with things too quickly, set it in the recent past, and I readily present my heartstrings for you to tug at will.
This book has all of those elements: By the time he's eleven, Fin has lost his father, mother, and grandparents. His legal guardianship falls to his twentysomething half-sister, Lady, who hasn't really been part of his life before, aside from a trip his family took nine years earlier to follow Lady to Italy after she ran out on her own wedding. Now Fin finds himself uprooted from the Connecticut farm he's always called home and transplanted into Greenwich Village.
The plot sounds tailor-made for the tugging of my heart's strings, right? So why only three stars? Well, the truth is that I liked this book for the most part. Fin was a great character, and the writing was very strong. However, there are a couple reasons that this book didn't connect with me more: the fact that I never really got a sense of the time and place, the fact that I didn't understand why any of the men continued to pursue Lady, and the awkward narration.
This book takes place in Greenwich Village in the mid-sixties, but I never really got a sense of the turbulence of the times aside from a few throw-away references. I often forgot that it wasn't a contemporary story, because so many of the cultural shifts that were happening didn't seem to have much effect of Fin. I think there was a lot of missed opportunity there.
Early on in their relationship, Lady tells Fin that he has to help her find a husband because it's pathetic that she's 25 and not yet married. She has three potential suitors who float through her orbit over the course of the novel, and she is very wishy-washy and noncommittal towards these men. she bounces back and forth between them, refuses marriage proposals, and often behaves cold and distant towards them. I know that this is meant to give us a peek into her characterization, but I didn't understand why any of the suitors kept coming around. They were too underdeveloped for to buy it. If there was a good reason for their continued longing, it just wasn't clear to me.
Really, though, the main reason I didn't love this book -- and, I suspect, part of the reason for my two more minor complaints -- is the fact that the book is narrated by a character that we don't meet until the last twenty or thirty pages of the story. Most of the story is told in a third-person narrative that occasionally drops in lines like, "Fin once told me..." I think a first-person narrative from Fin's perspective might have strengthened the story, but I tend to have a bit of a brain boner for first-person narratives done well. The fact that the story is filtered through our narrator whose own understanding is filtered through Fin's recitation of the story just meant that details and insights that would have developed the characters more fully and given a stronger sense of time and place were lacking. It just took me out of the story more than I would have liked.
Still, I think this is a good, well-written book that many readers will enjoy. I
enjoyed reading it, I was just a little disappointed that I couldn't lose myself in it as much as I wanted. That's what kept this from truly becoming a four-star read.