Summary: With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.
But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.
In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, acclaimed author Joyce Maynard weaves a beautiful, poignant tale of love, sex, adolescence, and devastating treachery as seen through the eyes of a young teenage boy—and the man he later becomes—looking back at an unexpected encounter that begins one single long, hot, life-altering weekend.-- William Morrow
I decided to read LABOR DAY by Joyce Maynard in preparation for a BlogTalk Radio show. I didn't know when I sat down to read it that I would become so wrapped up in this novel. LABOR DAY was just so easy for me to read, and I didn't want to stop until I finished it. I am such a sucker for a good coming-of-age story, and LABOR DAY definitely was that! In fact, LABOR DAY was chosen as a #1 IndieNext Pick for August 2009.
I thought the premise of this book sounded interesting -- a strange man goes home with a young boy and his mother over the Labor Day weekend. It seemed like a simple enough story, but I had no idea how much deeper it would be. As I read LABOR DAY, I kept waiting for something bad to happen to Henry and his mother -- for a shoe to drop if you will. Surprisingly to me, this book wasn't like that. This story gently lured me in and the writing was just so beautiful. LABOR DAY really made me think and yet still touched me on so many levels .
The characters in this story were all flawed and also very real. Each one had their own set of insecurities and issues, and Henry and his mother were especially vulnerable. I absolutely loved the character of Henry, and I thought he was the perfect narrator for this story. Henry was 13 years old and he had all of the normal teenage issues associated boys that age. He was caught between being a boy and a becoming a man -- such a hard time under regular circumstances. I couldn't believe how real and honest the character of Henry seemed, and I couldn't help but be affected by everything in Henry's life. As an aside, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how well Ms. Maynard captured the essence of a 13 year old boy. I thought Henry's voice and feelings were spot on!
After I finished this book, I couldn't stop thinking about Henry. Don't get me wrong, the other characters made an impact too; but I was just so concerned about Henry and his well-being. To me, this book was ultimately about Henry growing up and learning about love and forgiveness. Even though the story took place over just a few days, there was so much impact on Henry's entire life. This book demonstrated to me how influential single things can be in a young person's life - the effects can be life-altering.
There were a few scenes in the book that have really stayed in my thoughts. Without giving too much away, Ms. Maynard has Frank, the man who comes to stay with Henry and his mother, prepare some baked goods including a pie. Ms. Maynard gives detailed instructions about making a pie crust while also showing how it can serve as a metaphor for live. I loved the analogy and thought it was very well done. Evidently, baking is near and dear to the author's heart. You can read an essay written by Ms. Maynard about the importance of baking in her life (and her book) here.
I thought the BlogTalk Radio show with Ms. Maynard was extremely interesting. I was absolutely (am still am) blown away by how quickly she wrote this novel. The entire story in LABOR DAY takes place over a long Labor Day weekend -- around five days. Ms. Maynard shared that she actually wrote this novel in around the same time frame! It's almost as if she wrote the book in real-time -- how cool is that? She further added that not all of her books are written in this fashion! I was also thrilled that Ms. Maynard answered one of my questions during the show. I asked her if it was hard to write a book in the voice of a 13 year old boy? She said it really wasn't because she has a lot of experience being a mother to teenage boys. Evidently, LABOR DAY was a story that she was meant to tell and it just kind of poured out of her.
I highly recommend reading LABOR DAY. It's a pretty fast read, but it packs a powerful punch. I also think it would make an excellent discussion book for your next book club. There is a reading guide available to help facilitate your meeting, but I think it wouldn't be difficult to come up with some discussion topics on your own. Some topics your group might want to talk about include love, trust, parenting skills, loneliness, honesty, betrayal, and forgiveness. There really is a lot to explore between the pages of this book.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book!
For some reason, I received an ARC of LABOR DAY after I finished reading the hardback version. If you are interested in winning a brand-new ARC, just leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me what your plans are for the Labor Day weekend. If you'd like to double or triple your chances, you can blog and/or tweet about this contest with a link back to this post. I will accept entries until Thursday, September 4th at 11:59 p.m. EST; and I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!