by Gail Godwin | Bloomsbury
Ten-year-old Helen has a lot to mope about. Lisbeth, her not-terribly-nurturing mother, died when Helen was three. She has just lost Nonie, her loving but secretive grandmother (worse yet, in a way the child feels responsible for). And now, in the fateful summer of 1945, Harry, her alcoholic father, has taken a mysterious assignment in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, leaving Helen in the care of Flora, a sweet, weepy, abjectly admiring and embarrassingly unguarded cousin from the despised poor-relation side of the family. As the summer ticks along toward its explosive ending (friends depart; a polio scare keeps the cousins quarantined; an adolescent crush turns into a triangle; tempers simmer), long-buried stories emerge that explain Lisbeth’s chilliness, Harry’s cynicism (“I look forward to the day,” he tells his daughter, “when you can spot the unsavory truths about human nature for yourself”) and Nonie’s code of selective silence. In a coming-of-age novel as exquisitely layered and metaphorical as a good poem, Godwin explores the long-term fallout from abandonment and betrayal, the persistence of remorse and the possibility of redemption.
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