Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Fiction Review: Ask Again, Yes

For Big Book Summer last year, I did my first-ever Buddy Read with Nikki, a Booktube friend of mine who had the channel Red Dot Reads (she's on hiatus now). We read The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles together, though we live on opposite sides of the world (she's in Singapore), and we discussed it by leaving each other voicemails. That experience was so wonderful, and we both got so much more out of the novel this way, that we decided to do another Buddy Read. We picked a novel that was on both of our shelves, Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane, and once again, our enjoyment of this excellent multi-generational family saga was greatly enhanced by talking about it with each other. 

The novel begins in 1973 with two young Irish-American men, Francis and Brian, training together for the NYPD and then being assigned as partners when they're rookies. Francis had recently immigrated to the U.S. (though he was born there), and Brian was the son of Irish immigrants. Time moves forward, and they each marry: Brian marries Anne, a recent Irish immigrant like Francis, and Francis marries Lena, who comes from a close-knit Polish family. Francis and Lena move to Gillam, a small, rural town outside of the city (but an easy commute on the train). Lena is lonely out there, without her friends and family from the city. In 1975, Lena is nursing their new baby, Natalie, when she sees a moving truck pull up next door. Brian and Anne move in, and Lena hopes she'll finally have a friend, but Anne keeps to herself and seems moody. The years pass, and Francis and Lena have two more girls, Sarah and Kate, while Anne suffers a devastating miscarriage before finally having a boy, Peter. Though Anne disapproves for some reason, Peter and Kate become best friends and grow up together. Then, when they are in eighth grade, something horrible happens that affects every member of both families for decades to come.

All of that happens before page 100 (and I've obviously kept it vague to avoid spoilers). The novel follows Peter and Kate and their parents for thirty years after the devastating, life-changing incident. Keane has carefully crafted each character, and the reader gets different perspectives from each of them. While the characters are very well-developed, there is also a lot that happens in this novel, including some very surprising twists. It's a propulsive, engrossing read. In fact, Nikki and I traded voicemails after each of the three sections of the book, and we were careful not to read ahead so we wouldn't spoil anything for the other. That was very hard to do sometimes, to just stop reading at the end of a section! 

This would be an excellent book group book because there is so much to discuss here, as Nikki and I discovered: trauma and its effects on generations, steps in the healing process and how it's different for everyone, each character's thoughts and actions, plus the beautiful writing in the novel. We each tagged quotes that we shared with each other that revealed basic truths about humanity. I can't share any of them here because they'd reveal too much, and this is a novel you must discover for yourself. The ending was absolutely perfect, with more quote-worthy observations. We agreed that this is a novel about life and all its messiness: joys and sorrows, love and loss, grief and healing. I can't wait to read Keane's next novel, The Half-Moon, and meet the author at Booktopia next month!

388 pages, Scribner

Simon & Schuster Audio

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:


Mount TBR Challenge

Alphabet Soup Challenge - A

Diversity Challenge 


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. Sample is from the prologue, about Francis and Brian.


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  1. Oh this sounds really good. Onto the ever-growing TBR list it goes.

    1. So good! Her new novel arrives at my house April 2 - I can't wait to read it.

  2. It sounds like a tragic tale for both families. This one was popular I remember but I didn't get to it. Hope you like her next novel.

    1. There is tragedy at the beginning, but it is really about healing, love, and moving forward.