Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review: A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents

Summary: Grace Hawkes has not spoken to her previously tight-knit family since her mother's sudden death five years ago. Well, most of the family was tight-knit-- her father walked out on them when she was 13 and she and her two brothers and sister bonded together even closer with their mother as a result.

She's been doing her best to live her new life apart from them, but when their estranged father has a stroke and summons them, Grace suddenly realizes she's done the same thing he had done...abandoned those who need her most.


And need her they do, for inside the hospital walls, a strange war is unfolding between the pseudo-kindly woman who is their father's second wife and the rest of the original Hawkes clan. Upon reconnecting with her brother and sisters, Grace will find a part of herself she thought was lost forever. As they unravel the manipulative deception of the second Mrs. Hawkes, Grace will finally be able to stand up for her family-- and to remember what a family is, even after all these years. -- 5 Spot


A few weeks ago, a few of my friends were talking about Liza Palmer's new book called A FIELD GUIDE TO BURYING YOUR PARENTS. Some were a little hesitant to pick up a book with that title -- I guess that "burying your parents" part could be a kind of a downer. On the other hand, I was intrigued by the title -- it's definitely one that sticks in my head. (Not to mention that I thought the cover was kind of cute!) Plus, I have a soft spot in my heart for Liza Palmer after I read SEEING ME NAKED -- I loved the book and it was one of the first that I reviewed on Booking Mama.

As was the case with SEEING ME NAKED, A FIELD GUIDE TO BURYING YOUR PARENTS did have a lot more substance than I was expecting. Based on the title of the book and the front cover, I thought the book might have been a light, fun read; however, when I read the book's description, I realized that this book actually was dealing with a lot of pain and loss. That's not to say that this book wasn't entertaining and funny because I don't think Ms. Palmer could write a book that wasn't humorous. Just saying that this book dealt with some heavy issues like forgiveness, redemption, and loss of parents.

I have to admit that it took me quite awhile to warm up to the character of Grace. After her mother died, she was in so much pain that she stayed away from her siblings for almost five years with very little contact. She missed out on so much like seeing her niece grow up as well as meeting her twin niece and nephew. For quite a few chapters, I really didn't find myself relating to her or even understanding her feelings in the slightest.

The story is told in Grace's words, and I had a hard time seeing through her rough exterior despite hearing her voice. As a reader, I could see that she had been hurt over and over again. But I was frustrated with her sarcastic nature and inability to see things that were right in front of her. It wasn't until she let down her guard and actually realized that it was okay to let herself forgive that I found myself actually caring enough about her to hope for her happiness. It was only after I finished reading the novel that I realized how appropriate the quotation at the beginning of the book was: "I'm fractured from the fall, and I want to go home." -- Ryan Adams from Two. I think those words definitely summed up Grace -- she was, without a doubt, "fractured."

What I really enjoyed about this book was how the family dynamics played out. I liked how Ms. Palmer developed Grace's brothers and sister, and I thought she did an excellent job of showing how siblings interact with each other (even after a long-time apart.) I also appreciated how she had the family ultimately come together against a common enemy -- that definitely made for some of the more "interesting" parts of the story!

I don't like to think about losing my grandparents, nevertheless my parents, but I did like how A FIELD GUIDE TO BURYING YOUR PARENTS made me think. Even though I am an adult child and grandchild in my 40s, I still think of myself as a kid when I'm with my parents and grandparents. I definitely look up to them as authority figures, but I have to wonder if I really know who they are. I mean... what were they like as kids, teenagers and adults before I came into the picture? What are they passions, dislikes, etc? A FIELD GUIDE TO BURYING YOUR PARENTS made me want to learn about them before it's too late!

I must say that I really have enjoyed both of the Liza Palmer books that I've read. I think Ms. Palmer has a great ability to tell a story almost as if she is talking to a friend. I have found both of the books extremely readable, and I like how she is able to tackle a pretty serious subject matter while also instilling a wonderful sense of humor in the stories. Now I just need to pick up CONVERSATIONS WITH A FAT GIRL which I'm sure I will love too.

A FIELD GUIDE TO BURYING YOUR PARENTS would make for a terrific book club pick. In some ways, the book is lighter than the literary fiction that my group tends to read; however, it also touches upon family dynamics and some other serious issues. I'm not going to guarantee that everyone in my group would love this book or the characters, but (maybe because of the different opinions) I am pretty confident that our group would have a good discussion. Some of the topics in the reading guide include family dysfunction, sibling dynamics, parent/child relationships, romantic love, grief, redemption, and forgiveness.

I recommend A FIELD GUIDE TO BURYING YOUR PARENTS if you enjoy books about dysfunctional families. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of this novel and I think it fans of Liza Palmer will definitely enjoy it!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.

15 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

Dysfunction can get old, but if it is handled with humor it is always easier! I have a book here that I keep meaning to start called "This is Where I Leave You" that is supposed to be about humorous dysfunction. It was in the top 10 fiction read of the year with EW, so I am looking forward to it.

Beth F said...

Yes, the title is a bit off-putting, but it sounds like something worth reading. I haven't read any of Palmer's work.

bermudaonion said...

I'm one of those people who was put off by the title, but I after I heard the author on BTR, I'm anxious to read this book. It's funny that you were wondering how your parents were when they were young - Vance was asking us all kinds of questions about what we were like as kids when he was home at Christmas.

Natalie said...

thank you for the review....i agree that the cover is too cute and after your thoughts on the book, i'm anxious to read it. of course i've added it to my ever-growing list...we'll see when I actually get around to it!

Jo-Jo said...

This does sound like a book that I would enjoy. I don't know if I would be comfortable reading with my book club though, since there are a couple of older ladies in my group.

Serena said...

The title of this book scares me. Then again, the subject matter and the dysfunction in this family could be interesting, especially (like Sandy says) if it is done with humor.

Thanks for the review.

Mrs. Melissa said...

I just bought this in paperback last weekend (along with A Reliable Wife) - the title caught my eye immediately because, unfortunately, I have buried both my parents already. My first reaction was, "YEAH RIGHT, its a little too late for me!!" So I'm excited to start this one soon!

S. Krishna said...

Great, great review. I definitely will be picking this one up. I don't necessarily like sarcastic characters, but it sounds like it's necessary for her character development!

Amy said...

This looks like a really interesting read. I've had some sibling difficulties (to say the least) since a dramatic event in the past so I think this would really resonate.
I just hope my parents don't see me reading it.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I just love the title for this one. Very clever...

Lisa said...

This title had really caught my eye. I'm glad to know that there's a good book to go with it.

Laura's Reviews said...

I really enjoyed this book as well. I think the title does scare a lot of people off . . . but it is not all sadness. There is mystery, humor, and romance . . a lot more to the book than the title suggests.

Great review!

Amused said...

This title really intrigued me and I really wanted to read a review before I picked it up. Glad to know it'd be worth it!

Diane said...

I'm one of those weird ones who enjoy stories about dysfunctional families. The title alone has my interest on this one.

Great review Julie

thekoolaidmom said...

OH, another one for my wishlist. This looks like a good book. I haven't read any of Palmer's books, so I'm not influenced by her rep, and I actually love the title.

I know exactly what you mean about not really knowing who your parents are as their child, and when you do learn they were once teenagers AND ACTED LIKE ONE, it's a shock. Whe I first learned that my mom ran away from home and went to California at 16, a fact she didn't tell me until I was close to 30, it floored me.

Off to add it to my WL :-)