I finished reading this novel today (as an Ebook on my Nook) for my Third Tuesday Book Club meeting (to be held tomorrow, Tuesday, November 17th, 2015); it was not hard to do, as this is the kind of book that is very difficult to put down. It is about coming of age, and grief, and responsibility, and was a book that I very much enjoyed reading.
It is the summer of 1961 in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota; our narrator, speaking from across the years, is thirteen year old Frank Drum. His father is the Methodist minister in town (and for two other, smaller towns); when his father and mother married, his father was going to be a lawyer, but the Second World War radically changed his goals. His mother is not quite the typical minister’s wife; she smokes, drinks (in the privacy of her own home), and is musically gifted, running the choirs and music in the three congregations. Frank’s sister Ariel is even more musically gifted; she has graduated from high school, has been going steady with Karl Brandt (son of the richest family in town), and she is being mentored by Emil Brandt, the world-renowned musician who was blinded in the war, who lives with his deaf and autistic sister Lisle. (Franks’s mother grew up in New Bremen, and at one time was engaged to be married to Emil, before he went to New York to make his fortune before the war.) The family is rounded out by Jake, Frank’s eleven year old brother and his constant companion, who stutters so badly when speaking in public or when upset that he is largely silent when not with the family.
The action of the novel takes place during this summer, and by the end of the summer there have been five deaths, all of which affect Frank and his family in different ways; the third death in particular is one that breaks Frank’s heretofore life open. Without giving any details away, it is safe to say that Frank, by the end of the summer, has ceased to be merely a kid and has become, if not grown up, at least not a child any longer.
I very much enjoyed reading this book (which won the Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2013), and I anticipate a good discussion of this book for our last Third Tuesday Book Club meeting of the year.