Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: Labor Day

When our book club was offered a chance by William Morrow Paperbacks to read and discuss Labor Day by Joyce Maynard, we jumped. I had already read the book and liked it, and I was pretty sure our club members would enjoy it. The deal is that we all 10 received a copy of the book, and when the movie comes out in a few days, we'll get tickets to go see it. What a deal! But I had no idea how much the offer to review it would motivate our book club.

Frankly, our book club is notorious for being largely a chatting club. I'd say we run around 60% average "I read the book." Sometimes we even decide not to talk about the book much so that we don't spoil it for those who haven't. But this one? Let's just say that after this meeting, we agreed that when we all actually read the book, we have fabulous discussions!

Part of the fun of the night is that we were challenged to make snacks based on foods served in the book. Donna made curry soup, which was absolutely fantastic and perfect on a cold January night.

Rachel made lady fingers drizzled in French silk chocolate based on a scene involving, um, silk scarves…

And Sarah and Elizabeth both made peach pies. Of course we all had to try both of them, and oh. my. goodness. They were both absolutely amazing!

The process of making peach pies was rather central and quite memorable in this book about a boy, his mom, and the convict that changes the course of their lives.

Caroline brought this article from Parade Magazine about author Joyce Maynard teaching Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, who star in the upcoming movie, how to make a pie. (You can actually watch a how-to video on the link.) I loved this part of the book—when the convict, who has escaped from prison and has invited himself to live with 13-year-old Henry and his emotionally fragile mother, Adele, teaches Henry how to bake a pie.

But enough about the food. The book itself received an almost unanimous "I loved it" from our group. One of our members called it "fluffy chick lit" and didn't particularly like it. This isn't heavy literature, but I personally would not categorize it as "fluffy." It's a quick, easy, and satisfying read.

We used the readers' guide at the back of the book to facilitate our discussion, although of course we veered off course many times. The questions promoted all kinds of discussion about parenthood, the definition of family, coming of age, and love at first sight.

We all loved Henry, the lonely boy, and Frank, the loving convict. We felt rather disgusted with Adele, Henry's mother, who had checked out emotionally years ago after Henry's father left her. As one member said, "Loving your kid doesn't mean you're a a good mother." But Frank sees something worth saving in Adele, and his gentleness both nurtures Adele and encourages Henry. For a short time, they are a family.

The problem is that this new family is living on borrowed time. The authorities are looking for Frank, and he can only stay in hiding at Adele's for so long before he's caught. We all know that their fairytale life can't continue.

And that's all I'm going to say about the plot.

There were some wonderful moments in the novel. Maynard is fantastic at painting a picture that sticks in the reader's mind. I remember particularly a beautiful scene where the rough convict bathes a wheelchair-bound boy, a baseball lesson, as well as a couple of vivid pie-making scenes. Henry, Adele, and Frank are the most memorable characters, but we also see a lot of his father and stepmother as well as an anorexic girl who becomes Henry's friend, of sorts. Lots of complicated relationships are explored in the novel; Maynard does a great job of showing how parents' actions and choices impact a kid's life forever—and how one selfless man can change all that.

We are all looking forward to seeing Labor Day brought to the screen within the next few weeks. Movies are always risky, especially so soon after reading a book—before our middle-aged brains have forgotten all the details. We plan to meet after the movie to compare and contrast it with the book. And I'm hoping someone will make another peach pie!

{Disclaimer: as mentioned, I was provided with review copies of the book and will receive movie tickets for reviewing the book. The opinions of the book, however, are not influenced by this bounty.}

1 comment:

Heidi’sbooks said...

The food looks great, and the company looks awesome. I just joined a book club and I can't wait for our first meeting. I am a member of an online book club, but I think I'm going to enjoy seeing people face to face with great cooking and wonderful fellowship.