Friday, May 22, 2009

Review: Precious

Summary: The summer of 1978, ten-year-old Vicki Anderson rides her bike to the local park and goes missing. Her tight-knit blue-collar Pennsylvania neighborhood, where children roam the streets at night playing lightning tag, aboveground pools sparkle in backyards, and flowers scent the air, will never be the same.

Down the street from Vicki’s house, another family is in crisis. Troubled by her past, headstrong Natalia Kisch has abandoned her husband and two daughters for another man. Frank Kisch, grappling with his anger, is left to raise their girls alone, oblivious to his daughters’ struggles with both disappearances: Eva, seventeen, plunges into an affair with her married high school teacher, and nine-year-old Sissy escapes to a world of imagination and storytelling that becomes so magical it pierces the reality of the everyday.

When Natalia unexpectedly returns, the struggles and tensions that have built over the summer erupt into a series of events that change the Kisches irrevocably—forcing them to piece together their complicated pasts and commitments to each other.

In this haunting, atmospheric debut, Sandra Novack examines loss, loyalty, and a family in crisis. Lyrical and elegiac, Precious illuminates our attempts to make sense of the volatility that surrounds and consumes us, and explores our ability, even during the most trying times, to remember and hold on to those we love most. -- Random House

It seems like lately I've been starting a lot of books with preconceived notions about what they were going to be like. You'd think by now that I wouldn't do that since I've been proven wrong so many times in the past few weeks; but once again, I had definite ideas about the novel PRECIOUS by Sandra Novack. While the storyline wasn't exactly what I was expecting, I quickly forgot my assumptions and became caught up in this family's story. PRECIOUS is just a beautifully written novel with very honest characters.

For some reason, I thought this book was going to be about the disappearance of a young girl. I basically processed the first few lines of the book's description without really absorbing the rest. And while the disappearance of the neighbor girl was a secondary storyline in this novel, the real essence of this novel was about The Kisch family. When Natalia the mother picks up and leaves suddenly one day, the father and remaining two daughters' lives are turned upside-down. The depth of their pain from the loss of Natalia is so intense that the reader can actually feel it. I enjoyed how the author showed how each person attempts to cope with the loss (hint: it's not always "healthy") and how each one is damaged as a result of their actions.

While I did like the storyline, I also thought the author did a great job of setting the tone of this novel. The story takes place in a small Pennsylvania town in the 1970s, and I think she captured the look and feel perfectly. I loved how she described the neighborhood the Kisch's lived in as well as their nosy neighbors. I could definitely picture their surroundings, and I think her descriptions of a small town and its inhabitants helped to enhance the story.

To me, this book is about loss on so many levels. The most obvious indications of this theme are the disappearance of the little neighbor girl and Natalia's abandonment of her family; however, I think the theme of loss goes much deeper than just the physical. The author does a terrific job of showing the devastating effects of these losses on their loved ones, but she also shows other things that were "lost" as a result. For example, there are losses of an intact family, respect, security, a child's innocence, and the trust between parent/child and husband/wife to name a few.

However, this book isn't only about loss -- it's also about forgiveness and redemption. When Natalia realizes the error of her ways and returns home to her family, she is faced (rightly so) with their anger and bitterness. Everyone in the family is forced to examine their actions and decide what's ultimately best for them. As a reader, I had a feeling that all of the family's pain and anguish would come to the surface, and I was very anxious to see how (or if) their issues would be resolved. I admit that I was surprised by a few of the outcomes; however, I liked that the ending wasn't tied up neatly with a bow on top. This book was far too good for that!

PRECIOUS is Ms. Novack's first novel, and I think it's a wonderful beginning! As I mentioned earlier, her prose is just beautiful; however, I was equally impressed (if not more so) with her development of the characters. The members of the Kisch family were just incredibly real to me, and I felt as if I really understood their thoughts and actions (even if I didn't always agree with them.) The way Ms. Novack made the reader feel their pain is just amazing, and I can promise that these characters (flaws and all) will remain in your thoughts after finishing this novel. I am pretty sure that Ms. Novack is making a name for herself with PRECIOUS, and I am very anxious to read more of her work. If you want to learn more about Ms. Novack, there is a very interesting interview with the author and you can also visit her blog.

I think PRECIOUS would make an excellent book club book. After I finished this book, I definitely wanted to discuss it with a friend. I think it would be fascinating to "analyze" these characters and their actions, but I also think the themes in this novel are worth a further look. Some examples of discussion topics are: marriage, parent/child relationships, trust, loss, and redemption. I couldn't find a reader's guide at this time, but if/when I do, I'll be sure to add the link to this post. If you are interested in taking a peak at the book, make sure you check out this excerpt.

Check out these other blogs for their thoughts:

Monday, May 4th: Fizzy Thoughts

Wednesday, May 6th: Book, Line, and Sinker

Thursday, May 7th: Redlady’s Reading Room

Monday, May 11th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Wednesday, May 13th: Bookworm with a View

Thursday, May 14th: Pop Culture Junkie

Monday, May 18th: Literate Housewife

Tuesday, May 26th: Book Addiction

Friday, May 29th: Diary of an Eccentric

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be a part of the PRECIOUS book tour.


bermudaonion said...

The book sounds terrific! Your review is great, as always.

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

The book sound wonderful! Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the link--i also enjoyed this book! you really hit the nail on the head when you said the book deals with loss on so many's not only loss of a mother, loss of a child...but loss of innocence and loss of faith and hope. great review!

Jenny Girl said...

I love it when a book changes from what you thought it was going to be about, proviede it is a good change :)
This books good. Thanks for the tip!

Jo-Jo said...

This book has definitely caught my eye. Thanks for the great review Julie!

LisaMM said...

Hi Julie, I'm so glad you liked Precious. Great review, as always! Thanks so much for all the time and effort you put into reading and reviewing this book for TLC!

Sandra Novack said...

Hi Booking Mama!

Thanks so much for the wonderful and in-depth review. And thank you so much for leaving a comment on Amazon! That really helps. (Pop Culture Junkie did, too, and that's awesome--helps round out the view of the book, so much appreciated.)

You know, when I wrote Precious I was pretty sad because when my sister left home no one talked about her afterward--too painful--so for years it was like living with silence. And the tone and mood, when I finally did find words for the feeling (even though it's fiction--really all of it), were about loss.

A lot of times, though, my writing is quirkier and funnier (though probably admittedly always dark and introspective, too). My new novel has more of the latter, though I think the goal for a writer is to balance all those sides of herself on the page. I like what Pop Culture said, too: I mean, a sad book can have funny moments, too. :)

I really liked doing this blog tour, as it helped me think quite a lot about the reader and what she brings to it, in terms of expectation, desire, etc. Very helpful.

Thanks, again, and all best,
Sandy Novack

Beth F said...

Super review and I've been convinced by all the positive reviews that this one I should read.

bethany (dreadlock girl) said...

I was wondering about this, I was drawn in by the cover...glad to hear you loved it!

Books dealing with loss always really make me think about life and how a loss of one could affect so many people.

Great review!

Bingo said...

Hi, Julie P!
Congratulations! I have an award for you over at BOOKIN' WITH BINGO.
Come by and get it when you can as it will post this evening!

Bingo said...

Your award is now posted see....


Anonymous said...

Awesome review...I agree with everything you said. :-D

I think this is a book that gets better with distance. I mean, I really liked it when I finished it, but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it.

S. Krishna said...

What a wonderful review! I have this book on my shelf and am glad to know you liked it.

Anonymous said...

I've also got to stop setting my expectations for a book by the first few lines of the description. I'd rather know what I'm getting into :-).

I've put this on my list of books to potentially nominate for one of my book clubs. Thanks for the review!

Unknown said...

Sounds like a fascinating read, thanks for the review!