the best friends you’ll never have

I read the latest Family Tree immediately after completing this one, so if I am a little mixed up, that’s why.

I was not looking forward to reading this book. I feared that it would be Sunny, Diary Three, which is a book that brings out the Mary Anne lurking deep inside all of us. But I had a Readalong to complete, so read I did.

Now, this book does not require as many boxes of Kleenex as Diary Three. Twelve-year-old Liza’s father is diagnosed with heart disease and given six months to a year to live. As you might be able to tell from the title, no miracles happen, and he passes away shortly after the six month mark. The rest of the book is about how Liza and her family adjust to life after her father.

A warning: there is a tragic pet death as well. So if you have a hard time with that in fiction (I certainly do), you may want to skip this one.

One of the things that struck me about this book was very much influenced by the fact that I read Ann’s most recent book immediately after finishing this one. It is very obvious that Ann has had nearly 30 years to grow as a writer. With the Family Tree books, for the most part, I don’t feel like they are superficial. With the books I’ve read so far for the Readalong, I do feel like they don’t go deep enough and somehow, psychologically, just aren’t there quite yet. The main character in Missing Since Monday seems rather matter-of-fact about the whole thing. In this book, I feel like for the most part, Liza’s family just gets on with their lives. Even Abby’s Portrait is a far deeper portrayal of the pain someone goes through when they lose a parent young. Liza is sad, and feels guilty about doing things she enjoys, and the rest of her family just kind of gets on with things. The book ends with Liza getting the boy she wants, and her brother getting into Princeton, and Liza adjusting enough to be able to go to the cemetery. The message seems to be, well, life goes on.

Random thoughts:

  • The town is called “Neuport.” Which just looks really weird to me. Spell it “Newport.” Are there any cities with French names in Connecticut?
  • Liza is described as being tall, which makes me think of Liza Shore in Claudia and the Perfect Boy. Perhaps “Liza” is Ann’s default “Tall Girl” name.
  • Liza and her friend once broke into her parents’ liquor cabinet and got drunk. Strangely, this is presented in a neutral way, with no judgment. Considering that girls who chew gum in the BSC are villified, this is quite strange. Perhaps the ice cream story in Ann’s biography and her and her friends in college getting crazy and ordering using a taxi was really a case of beer.
  • Liza’s dad is an advertising executive and her mom was head of the English Department of a neighboring school system. A big deal is made out of the fact that Liza’s mom actually works. Was this so shocking in 1986?

    External links:

  • Kirkus Review on With You and Without You
  • Are You There, Youth? It’s me, Nikki

    Next week I read Slam Book. Looking forward to this one…

  • 1 Responses To This Post

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    Elizabeth said, May 18th, 2014 at 10:47 am

    I just read this one for the first time (which probably means I appreciated it less than I would have if I had read it as a kid, but you know), and I agree about the characters somehow not feeling enough. I mean, there is Liza’s whole big thing about not wanting to celebrate Christmas or buy Christmas presents, and yet the instant she gets a boyfriend, suddenly Christmas presents are on the table again.

    I’m not sure about the working mom thing. Where I was growing up in the 1980s/1990s, it was common for women not to work outside the home, or not to hold executive positions (e.g., I knew a lot of female teachers, but fewer female principals/superintendents). I thought maybe they were going to tie it more into the dad’s death and the family not having the second income, but then SURPRISE, the move happens off-screen (off-page?) and is hardly given any discussion. I think it comes off more interestingly in P.S. Longer Letter Later when the dad loses his job and the mom has to go to work.

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