I say ‘they’ because Alex does not want to be identified as either gender – something you see them realising confronting and dealing with as the novel progresses. Alex’s mother leaves her husband, Alex’s father, to embark on a journey that takes over two years and spans the states of America. Is she running away from something, or towards it?
Each city, state or place brings its own narrative episode as well as insight into the mother’s history, introducing us to a plethora of ‘Lauras’, women from different points in her past who influenced her life in some way. It became hard to keep track of all the Lauras, as they seemed to blend into one mythical figure, and although we assume she is looking for these Lauras through the whole book, they all seem to be this mythical figure.
As the book progresses we piece together enough history to watch the mum grow up, as well as watching Alex navigate the rocky progression from 13 year old to almost adulthood, while constantly on the move. This makes the book a journey in more ways than one – it is a journey across America, a coming of age journey about growing up, an adult journey through a past too gritty to be referred to as ‘memory lane’, and ultimately it is about a search for meaning and belonging.
Both Alex and her mother are dealing with their identities in terms of gender and sexuality, and these issues are dealt with very well in the novel, in a way that was really heartwarming. It also deals with themes of abuse, of a variety of different natures, and while this is a difficult topic it is used and explored in ways that help to expose problematic attitudes.
America comes to life in this book – a varied America, with the cliche of greasy diners and strict religious communities, to wild mountainous regions and the sandy beaches of Florida. Each place comes to life with its own history, and potential; every one has its stories. The book is rich in storytelling, the stories we tell each other, the stories we hear and the stories we tell ourselves. It is a beautiful journey through what it means to be a child, a teenager, and adult and simply a human.
I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own.
Image from Amazon.