A couple of weeks ago my friend Amy (not to be confused with My Friend Amy) handed me this book and said, "My son's first babysitter wrote this!" So of course I'm thinking that this is going to be a bust. What former babysitter writes a great first novel? But I liked the feeling of the book cover, and the blurb on the back cover actually sounded great.
And so even though a whole stack of books were in line before this one, I distinctly heard Beneath the Pines calling "Pick me! Pick me!" when I finished Half of a Yellow Sun. (After an intense book like that, I need just the right kind of book to read.) I loved Janet Beard's first novel! The story switches back and forth between the 1950s, when Mary Alice McDonnell was a young girl in love, and the present, when Mary Alice is a biology teacher in her 60s, carrying burdens from her past. There's plenty of good stuff in here: strong characters, bittersweet romance, a good dose of Appalachia, secrets, and redemption.
Sure, there are lots of coincidences that set the whole story in motion. The dialogue can be a bit forced. The ending is rather rushed with the characters forced to dissolve all their baggage in a couple short chapters. Still, this is the kind of book I like to read after a string of intense reads like Half of a Yellow Sun and The Cellist of Sarajevo. I like Beard's writing, and I enjoy stories that take awhile to unravel. This isn't an earth-shattering novel, but a great break between more intense reading.