“Count the Ways” by Joyce Maynard

Genre: Domestic Fiction/Coming of AgeCount The Ways
Publisher: William Morrow and Custom House
Pub. Date: July 13, 2021

A domestic saga set in the 1970s and 1980s that goes back and forth between past and present.  The novel opens with our protagonist Eleanor, returning to the farm she once found, owned, and lived on as mother and wife, before her divorce and life tore the family apart. In trying to be a good mother, she loses everything. The occasion for the return is the wedding of Al, Eleanor’s firstborn, who is a transgender man.  Eleanor’s past is a painful one. Her present day captures both suffering and joy. The pacing is swift and the plot turns seem authentic as the family evolves. I did think the chapters were too long, sometimes with repeating themes.  However, the book is 464 pages and one could say it needed that many pages to digest all the hurt that included two tragedies in Eleanor’s life.

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“The Essence of Nathan Biddle” by J. William Lewis

Genre: Coming of AgeThe Essence
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Pub. Date: June 1, 2021

The story takes place in the 1950s and revolves around Kit Biddle. He is a depressed, male teenager, who is searching for the meaning of life. This is demonstrated through his actions as well as his writing of existential poems.  The highest critique of this ambitious novel is that it takes very little time for the reader to compare “The Essence of Nathan Biddle,” to “The Catcher in the Rye.” Kit, who is beautifully written, will remind you of Holden Caulfield many times.  In “Catcher,” Holden finds himself in a hospital for the mentally ill.  Kit also lands in a hospital after a car crash, which may or may not have been a suicide attempt. While there, Kit begins his journey of physical as well as mental health recovery. The harshest criticism of “Essence” is that while Kit is learning to find a less depressing meaning of life, the story becomes repetitive. Still, the author does such a good job of showing the reader life’s unfairness and illogicality that I recommend trying this novel.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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