Friday, January 16, 2015

Fiction Review: Is This Tomorrow

Last spring, author Caroline Leavitt visited our tiny local bookstore. Although I missed her talk, I was intrigued by all the discussion among locals and the bookstore owner about her novels. I bought one of them, Is This Tomorrow, for my mother and stepmother for Mother’s Day, and they both enjoyed it. I finally had a chance to read it myself and was riveted by the multi-faceted novel about family, friendship, and loss.

The novel opens in 1956, in a suburb of Boston. Ava rents an older, small house in this otherwise newer suburb with cookie-cutter homes and lives there with her twelve-year old son, Lewis. As far as her neighbors are concerned, Ava has three strikes against her: she is Jewish, divorced, and works outside the home. She is striving to make a nice life for herself and Lewis, but it is a struggle. There is only one other mother on the block who actually likes Ava and has made her feel welcome: Dot Rearson, the only other husband-less woman in the neighborhood. But Dot’s husband died, so her singlehood is more acceptable to the neighbors.

Dot’s two children, Jimmy and Rose, are Lewis’ best friends…they are his only friends, but two good friends are really all a kid needs. They are inseparable and call themselves The Three Mouseketeers, roaming the neighborhood, riding bikes, planning their lives, and sharing secrets.

Then, the unthinkable happens. One sunny day, Jimmy just disappears from their tranquil neighborhood. Ava was the last person to see him, and now he is simply gone without a trace. Jimmy’s disappearance transforms the neighborhood – it is no longer the safe, protected place they all thought. Police can’t find a trace of Jimmy, and the neighbors form watch patrols and gather their children close, living in a state of fear. Ava blames herself, since she was the last to see Jimmy, but there is plenty of guilt to go around. Rose and Lewis think it is their fault for not showing up to meet Jimmy when they said they would that day, and of course, Dot harbors her own mother guilt. Their lives quickly unravel.

The second half of the novel takes place about ten years later, when Lewis and Rose are young adults, each scarred from the childhood disappearance of Jimmy. Each of the characters has to find his or her own peace and somehow come to terms with what happened years ago.

Is This Tomorrow is an emotionally complex novel with a mystery at its center. I was riveted from the first page by its suspense and found the story compelling right until the end, but there’s more to this novel than an intriguing mystery. The author carefully follows each character, examining the different ways they each cope with their loss, and how the tendrils of that one event affect each one through the rest of their lives. She makes you care about the characters. I also found the setting fascinating – she provides such detail of the time and place that the setting is almost like another character in the book. I was totally pulled in by this well-written and captivating story and look forward to reading more by Caroline Leavitt.

349 pages, Algonquin Books

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