Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek

The four Haas siblings had anything but a normal childhood, growing up the children of a once famous playwright and a cult actress, mostly neglected as their parents pursued their own dreams and desires. Told in four main sections (a fifth smaller section narrated by their mother closes the book) as Amy, George, Finn and Kate move into adulthood and on with their lives away from the dysfunction that reigned supreme throughout their childhood, the novel illuminates who they have become and why.

Amy wants, more than anything, to be normal and to have a normal life. George is searching for love and the acceptance that no one aside from Amy ever offered him. Kate has shut herself off emotionally and in lieu of a relationship, drives herself through her high-powered legal job. And Finn, the least likely to make waves when they were younger, is drinking himself into an early grave. None of the four is undamaged by their unbringing. But each of the four is also struggling to overcome and to learn the happiness they were never taught as children watching their parents lash out at and destroy each others' lives with carelessness, apathy and disloyalty. Through it all, none of the siblings is capable of severing connections entirely. Each retains a shred of love for their parents and for each other which manifests itself throughout the years covered in the novel in surprising ways.

Although there is no physical abuse, the scars of the characters' early lives are still raw and visible. And that makes this book sad in tone and emotionally draining. And yet, despite this almost despairing sense, there is hope in the fragile family connections they retain and in their developing abilities to make a new, stronger family for themselves amongst those who accept and love them in the end. The writing here is fluid and smoothly sweeps the reader along. The characters, flawed and pitiable as they all are, are entirely sympathetic. We are given more about Amy and George than about Kate and Finn but perhaps their aching for love and normalcy in their lives is more resonant than the workaholism and alcoholism of Kate and Finn would have been. The story was not full of action and fireworks but was quietly emotional and relentless and true to life. And yet there was a lost and wandering, a sense of melancholy to the tale that burrows into the reader, keeping the pages turning in hopes of finding out that these characters find some happiness and sense of peace for themselves in the end.

The final section of the book, narrated by Marilyn, the mother of these four bent not broken siblings, was much more hopeful than the sections narrated by the siblings but it was almost a bit too hopeful given her absence and neglect from their lives to that point. Certainly her remorse at what she recognizes she's had a large hand in doing to her children is earned and their continued slight wariness in her presence feels authentic but without understanding how she has come to face her past transgressions, it seems so different from the rest of the book that it makes a bit of an awkward fit.

A complex stew of modern day family, dysfunctions, and the things that keep us bound, however tenuously, this is a gripping, gut-aching story and one that will keep you thinking long after the last page is turned.

Be sure to visit author Robin Antalek's website to read an excerpt or learn more about the author.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Harper Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book.

This review is a part of a TLC Book Tours blog tour.


  1. I have been wanting to read this for a long time, so I really appreciate your review. I like that you highlight that sometimes emotional neglect can be just as scarring as physical abuse--authors seem to forget that, and it's nice to see it explored this way.

    Great review!

  2. I've been interested in this book for quite some time! Great review! I hope to read it soon too!

  3. This one looks good to me. I love reading about complicated family relationships.

  4. I have this on my wish list for the library and I'm glad to hear that it will be worth reading.

    What is it about dysfunctional families that fascinates us so? I guess we either relate or are grateful.

  5. I have a perverse attraction to stories about family dysfunction, and this one sounds really good. Thanks for the great review!

  6. Interesting that you thought the mom's section was almost too hopeful, based on her history. I'd love to explore that more in a book club! :)

    Thanks for being on the tour! Great review. :)

  7. This is the type of novel I enjoy but your review has definitely sold me ... thanks!


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