Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blue Plate Special, by Michelle D. Kwasney

Three generations of women from the same family, each one telling her story as a teenager, separated from the others by 15-16 years. Each one will make their own mistakes, which in turn sow the seeds for the next generation. In 1977, Madeline meets the boy who inspires her to get the strength to stand up to her alcoholic mother and to make an effort to turn her life around, but all of that changes tragically and quickly. 16 years later, Desiree pays the price for those past injustices, while being subjected to an entirely new set inflicted by herself. And 16 years after that, Desiree's daughter Ariel struggles with her own issues of identity.

All three timelines collide together when Desiree and Ariel are summoned to come to Madeline's bedside as the elder woman lies recovering from cancer surgery. The three women have to face up to how outside forces and their own choices have formed who each of them are. In the end, they will come to the realization that hatred will only take you so far in this world and that they each have a part to play in restoring their lives.

Told in alternating chapters from each character as a teen (and with Desiree's 1993 entries completely in free verse), this is an ambitious narrative about forgiveness, generational conflict, family, grief, and rebirth. It certainly maxes out the poignancy meter (so I'm obviously going to like it!). Seriously, it manages to pull on the heart strings without being exploitative. The characters were flawed enough to be real, but strong enough to be interesting. The themes (teen pregnancy, drug abuse, sexual abuse, sexual assault, abandonment, homicide, etc.) are dark, but are used for great effect. The story (both its structure and its pacing) is a memorable work of art. Kwasney's writing is not terribly lyric (and the verse chapters are nothing special) but I loved the way the story unfolded. And I really liked this book.

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