Boldly rendered and beautifully told, in FOLLOW ME Joanna Scott has crafted a paean to the American tradition of re-invention and a sweeping saga of timeless and tender storytelling. -- Little, Brown & Co.
When Miriam from Hachette wanted some input into selecting the book for the April Blog Tour, FOLLOW ME by Joanna Scott won by an overwhelming margin. I was one of the many who voted for this book because the book's description made it sound like it would be right up my alley. Plus, Ms. Scott is an award-winning author and I'd never read any of her books. I figured this was the perfect chance.
I'm going to admit that I had a hard time (not a really hard time, but a hard time nonetheless) getting into this book. Based on some of my twitter conversations, I'm pretty sure that I was not alone. I don't want to make it sound like reading this book was a struggle for me because it most definitely wasn't -- it just took me about 80 pages to really start enjoying it. I think way the author told the majority Sally's story -- through third person narrative -- didn't really allow me to understand or relate to Sally right away. However, I now totally understand why she chose to tell Sally's story in third person, and I think it is just perfect.
Having been up front about my slight problem with this book, I have to say that I did enjoy it. In fact, after I finished the novel, I kept thinking of terrific things to say about this novel. There are so many great things about this book that I know I'm not going to cover all of them in this review, but I just want to give you some idea of what an amazing job Ms. Scott did with this novel.
The first thing that really stood out for me was Ms. Scott's writing style. I went into this book knowing that she was a critically acclaimed author, so I knew that the writing was going to be a treat; however, I had no idea how very skilled Ms. Scott is. The writing is this book is just beautiful, and I think she did an excellent job telling this story. In addition, I was often times just blown away by her descriptions of events. She was able to set the tone of each scene perfectly over and over again. Just reading her prose is a huge treat. And I really enjoyed how she wrote in the chapters about the various characters in different voices -- I think she captured the essence of each character extremely well. If you'd like to read an essay by Ms. Scott and see for yourself what a terrific writer she is, check out this one called "Consider the Various Types of..."
Another thing that I really appreciated about this novel was how Ms. Scott developed the characters, especially Sally (the grandmother.) Sally was an interesting character for me because the book starts out with Sally running away and leaving her newborn baby on her parents' table. For the next couple of hundred pages, the reader still sees that Sally can just pick up on a moment's notice and just run away from all of her problems. I think one of the things that amazed me about Sally is that she didn't think things through at all -- she just acted (totally different from me, by the way.) In addition, while I didn't really relate to her or even like her for a big part of the book, my heart still went out to her. She found herself pregnant as a young teenager with her cousin's baby and didn't know what to do -- was desperate. She was forever dealing with the guilt and grief of leaving her baby behind as well as not knowing what happened to him. I thought the author did an excellent job conveying these feelings in Sally and showing how much of Sally's entire life was spent just trying to come to terms with these issues.
I also definitely appreciated all of the symbolism that occurred in this book. The most obvious symbol that comes to mind is the river and how it represents Sally's journey through her life. As Sally just picks up and leaves her current life, she always follows the river north to find her new new home. The current, direction, and flow of the river are all symbolic of the events in Sally's life; and the descrptions the author uses between Sally and the river are just so powerful. Another symbol that I found interesting was the mythical Tuskawali -- "little creatures said to have the faces and hair of humans and the spotted bodies of tadpoles." Natives claimed they were the sacred incarnations of fate. I loved how Ms. Scott included some mythicism in this novel and continually wove the possible existence of these creatures into the story.
I can actually say that since I've finished this book, I've found myself thinking about some of the themes and characters over and over again. One theme in particular that I found fascinating was the idea that the way we remember or perceive events that occurred in our life may be different than reality. I don't want to give away too much, but I felt as if the author showed how much of Sally's thoughts and actions were based on what she "needed" to think happened just so she could live with her decisions. I also love how Ms. Scott introduced other characters into this story to show the different viewpoints on what may or may not have occurred in the past. I think the reader will find them self not only thinking about how accurate Sally's interpretation of events is but actually thinking about how all of this relates to our own lives. I found myself wondering what am I actually "seeing" about myself (because I need to) versus what others see about me.
I recommend FOLLOW ME especially as a book club discussion book. This book covers some pretty deep issues and there is a great deal to talk about. Many of the characters are fascinating in their own right, but the underlying themes in this book are where I think most discussions will flourish. I think it would be so interesting to talk about the themes of escaping, new beginnings, truth, redemption, and forgiveness to name a few. I have no doubt that it will be a terrific book to talk about among friends.
Make sure you check out the other stops on the FOLLOW ME tour for some additional thoughts on this novel: