coming of age

‘Whispers in the Alders’ by @HA_Callum #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read and reviewed ‘Whispers in the Alders’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

whispers

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Alder Ferry would have been just another nondescript suburb living in the shadow of its urban parent if not for one detail: the mysterious stand of alder trees anchoring the town to its past and standing as a reminder to the wilderness that once stood in its place.
In the shadows of the alders a boy named Tommy found refuge. There, an eclectic book collection was his only companion through a tumultuous childhood, serving as his escape from the brutal realities of his life. That was, until Aubrey appeared.
Born of different worlds, the alders become their escape while their unlikely friendship blossoms into a love that few people ever come to understand or enjoy—proving that true friendship is a romantic pursuit in its purest form.
Together they come of age in a town hostile to their friendship—a friendship that challenges the intersecting boundaries of class, gender and sexuality. Prejudice and privilege masquerade to destroy their dreams while class, gender and faith collide. All are tested as Tommy and Aubrey carry each other through their teen years and into adulthood. Whispers in the Alders is an impassioned experience that will test the emotions and is a story that will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.

This is a beautifully-written novel by a very talented writer.

The story centres on the relationship between Aubrey and Tommy – both living in the small town of Alder Ferry and both trying to survive adolescence.

Aubrey is wealthy, but her privilege doesn’t bring her happiness. She is taken from pillar to post by her cold, uninterested and self-centred parents. Her father is responsible for takeovers of local firms, resulting in the dismissal of the employees, something that makes it incredibly difficult for Aubrey to fit into whatever school she has to attend. Tommy is poor, unwanted, his life brutal and cruel. They find comfort and companionship in each other, and they develop an intense relationship that helps them to cope.

The alders provide a sanctuary where the two of them can breathe, where they can be teenagers, away from the hostility and hate they are both subjected to in their small town.

The narrative here is dense, intelligent, poetic in places. This is an author who can really write, who has a detailed and complex knowledge of words and how to use them. This doesn’t make for an easy read at times, but some of the prose was astounding. That said, there were times when the writing overtook the story and I did feel that the narrative could have done with some trimming in places. The writing is beautiful – but sometimes it is too much, and for me this lessened the impact somewhat.  It is a skill to write like this, but there is also a skill in knowing when to cut some of those beautifully composed lines – when the story needs to be allowed to come through. Aubrey and Tommy are complex, interesting characters and they need to be at the fore – a brave and honest edit would help to make this book really shine, and to be the story it deserves to be.

4 stars

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‘The Lauras’ by Sara Taylor #BookReview #FridayReads

Lauras

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong…

As Ma and Alex make their way from Virginia to California, each new state prompts stories and secrets of a life before Alex. Together they put to rest unsettled scores, heal old wounds, and search out lost friends. But Alex can’t forget the life they’ve left behind.

This is a really beautiful story with relationships and identity at its core. Alex, the narrator, is a complex and incredibly well-drawn character – leaving home in the middle of the night with Ma as the story begins, and embarking on a journey that will explore not only the places they stay during their journey, but Ma’s past and their relationships – with each other, with Alex’s father and with their wider family as a whole.

The book makes the reader think about identity and what makes you who you are. It is about Ma, and her feelings about not belonging, her rootless and disjointed childhood when she was moved from pillar to post; her need to be on the move, held in check while Alex is too young, until she just can’t stay anymore. And it’s also about Alex, and being a teenager, and being confused, and sometimes wanting to fit in, and sometimes wanting to be different – to be you, and for other people to allow that, and to not question it.

On their travels they meet people from Ma’s past, and Alex gradually learns about that past. There are moments of real beauty and honesty here, and this is done without sentiment. The descriptions of the places they travel through, the places they stay – for an hour or for months – are beautifully done, as are the depictions of the people they meet and the people in Ma’s past that Alex learns about.

This is a really different book, with really unusual and complex characters. It’s about coming of age, and about coming to terms with the past, about accepting who you are. Evocative, complex, and moving – I highly recommend it.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.