Tag Archives: coming of age novels

Review: Ithaca, by Susan Fish

Ithaca, by Susan FishIthaca, by Susan Fish (Storywell, 2014)

When your life revolves around your husband and his work, what do you do when you have to start over? Alone?

Ithaca is a coming-of-age story—for a 59-year-old woman.

Daisy Turner’s husband, Arthur, was a professor at Cornell University. She typed his notes and kept his home. And made soup for a crowd every Wednesday.

They married young, and Daisy found fulfillment as a wife and mother. Now her son works overseas, and she’s a widow. And most of her friends are really Arthur’s friends.

She finds herself developing a friendship with a man who is slowly losing his wife to illness, and with a young woman who’s an environmental activist. Daisy surprises herself—and her son—by signing up for a university course to learn about fracking. She doesn’t know what it is, but the protest signs are everywhere, and she’d like to learn.

There’s so much to appreciate about this novel. Daisy seems quiet and ordinary, but it’s that very ordinariness that connects with readers. She’s candid about her grief, and the struggles it brings. We can identify. As her concern grows about the possible environmental danger from the fracking proposals, we can relate to this polite, reserved, non-activist who’s afraid that by doing nothing she’s surrendering the fight.

Most of us have concerns about some issue or another, and we know that feeling of helplessness. It’s interesting to watch Daisy discover how she fits into the bigger picture, how she can express her concerns in a way that’s true to who she is.

Ultimately, I think that’s what the story is about: finding—and being true to—one’s identity. Prepare to be charmed by Daisy, and by the town of Ithaca, NY, along the way.

Ithaca is a mainstream novel, and certain characters occasionally use mild profanity. Daisy herself was raised in the church, left for a time, but returned as an adult. Her faith shapes her life, but she’s still human and still open to making poor choices, as are we all.

Susan Fish writes beautifully and with an honesty I admire. Here are some of my favourite lines:

I needed the present to hold me very close because the past was threatening to engulf me. [p. 15]

Mondays were the days I stayed in my housecoat and watched hours of television shows, just to hear a human voice. [p. 19]

She carried loaves of bread from the restaurant like she was Miss America and they were her flowers. [p. 20, Daisy, about another friend]

I’m a farmer, Daisy Jane. I save my anger for what really matters. [p. 91: Carmel, the young activist. I love this perspective.]

Susan Fish is a Canadian author and editor as well as the principal of Storywell, an online resource for writers. You can find her blog at susanfishwrites.wordpress.com. If you missed the character interview I did with Daisy Turner, you can read it here.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: My Brother’s Keeper, by N. J. Lindquist

My Brother's Keeper, by NJ LindquistMy Brother’s Keeper, by N. J. Lindquist (That’s Life! Communications, revised edition, 2014 — formerly titled In Time of Trouble)

Shane Donahue is 18 years old and he hates his life. And his super-perfect twin brother, Scott. They’re identical twins, but they’ve turned into polar opposites. Scott excels at everything, while Shane… well he’s ordinary at best.

He’s been dumped from the basketball team, fired from his job, he’s failing at school, and even in the party crowd he can’t rise to the top. Oh, and his dad took his car away after the latest speeding ticket.

The characters are real, complex, and Shane will capture your heart in the opening pages even while you’ll be shaking your head at his attitude. His frustration, his sense of hopelessness to be good at anything, are feelings we know too well. He doesn’t really know who he is—just who he’s trying to project himself to be.

Favourite quote: Shane describes one of his friends, Ethan, as “kind of comfortable to be around. Like an old pair of sweat pants. He’s maybe the only person who’s never tried to change me.” [Kindle location 495]

As Shane’s world falls apart and his family life gets more turbulent, he figures he’s far enough gone that he might as well check out this God stuff Ethan’s been spouting. It’s either that or kill himself and get it over with.

Shane doesn’t expect what he hears to make so much sense, or to realize he wants God in his life. He also doesn’t expect life to then get harder! His father is more angry about God-talk than he was about Shane’s plummeting grades, and the party crowd is downright hostile about the change in him.

You don’t have to be an 18-year-old boy to appreciate My Brother’s Keeper. It’s for everyone who’s ever felt like a loser, ever felt too far gone to change, or ever felt too ordinary to be any use to God.

N.J. Lindquist is a Canadian author and speaker who has played key roles in The Word Guild and in the Hot Apple Cider anthologies. As well as writing YA fiction under her own name, she writes cozy mysteries as J.A. Menzies. For more about the author and her writing, visit her website: njlindquist.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]