Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Outside the Lines

Summary: When Eden was ten years old she found her father, David, bleeding out on the bathroom floor. The suicide attempt led to her parents’ divorce, and David all but vanished from Eden’s life. Since childhood, she has heard from him only rarely, just enough to know he’s been living on the streets and struggling with mental illness. But lately, there has been no word at all. 

Now in her thirties, Eden decides to go look for her father, so she can forgive him at last, and finally move forward. When her search uncovers other painful truths—not only the secrets her mother has kept from her, but also the agonizing question of whether David, after all these years, even wants to be found—Eden is forced to decide just how far she’ll go in the name of love. -- Washington Square Press

Last summer, I read BEST KEPT SECRET by Amy Hatvany. I absolutely loved this book and I truly was blown away by Ms. Hatvany's writing -- you can read my review here. But it was more than just the story that amazed me. I appreciated how this book made me think about parenting and alcoholism, and it even made me question my initial thoughts about the characters. I love it when a book can affect me so deeply.

So when I opened the mail a few weeks ago and discovered that Ms. Hatvany has another novel out called OUTSIDE THE LINES, I couldn't wait to read it. The description of the book appealed to me, but I admit that I was worried about being disappointed. I truly loved BEST KEPT SECRET and I feared that OUTSIDE THE LINES would pale in comparison.

I definitely wouldn't say that OUTSIDE THE LINES paled in comparison to BEST KEPT SECRET; however, I will say that I think BEST KEPT SECRET was a stronger novel. Not a lot stronger, but I guess that novel just resonated with me more than this one -- maybe it was because it explored both a mother's weakness and her love. Having said that, I enjoyed OUTSIDE THE LINES very much; and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to fans of women's fiction.

While I didn't find the storyline and characters in OUTSIDE THE LINES to be quite as interesting as the ones in BEST KEPT SECRETS, I still appreciated what Ms. Hatvany accomplished in this novel. OUTSIDE THE LINES tells the story of Eden a woman who last saw her father David when she was only ten years old. After battling mental illness and disappointing his family for years, David lost his will to live. Unfortunately, a very young Eden was the one to discover him after a suicide attempt. Needless to say, even as an adult, Eden was still reeling from her relationship (or lack thereof) with her father. She decides that she had to find him so she can have some sense of closure.

One of the things I adored about this book was the character of Eden. For the most part, she was very likable (notice I didn't say very smart!) I felt as if the author did a wonderful job of developing her character, both the good and the bad aspects; and I thought her thoughts and actions were very believable. In addition, I appreciated the character of David. I won't go so far as to say that I liked him. I had a very hard time accepting what he put this family through... even if he couldn't help himself. But I did find that he seemed very real to me and that his voice was authentic.

Another strong thing about OUTSIDE THE LINES was the format of the story. The book was written in both Eden's and David's voices which really allowed me to understand both characters. This was especially important to me when it came to David's character because he was very difficult to like. In addition, I liked that there were flashbacks to Eden's childhood. These chapters helped me to understand why Eden so desperately needed some closure with her father. All of the transitions between the chapters just flowed and worked really well for me.

I really enjoyed OUTSIDE THE LINES -- from the story, to the characters, to the way the author presented the story. However, I think I most appreciated how this novel explored mental illness. Once again, I was almost surprised by my reaction to this story. Of course, my heart went out to Eden and her mother for having to deal with David's episodes and abuse; however, I also felt sympathy towards David. Because there are chapters in this story written in David's voice, I got an inside look at a mentally ill person and it definitely wasn't pretty. At times, I got so angry at David for his behavior and selfishness; however, I think Ms. Hatvany gave me a unique perspective to mental illness. I no longer will question why someone suffering from one of these diseases doesn't just try to get better or allow his family to help him. I learned that it's not that simple.

OUTSIDE THE LINES deals with some very heavy issues and isn't always an easy read. However, I am impressed with how the author balanced the serious parts of this novel with some lighter ones. Despite dealing with homelessness, alcoholism, cancer and mental illness, there are also some happy and even funny aspects to this story. Eden is a very likable character and I enjoyed her relationships with her best friend and brother. I also liked her budding romance and chemistry with Jack, a great guy who runs a homeless shelter. While I found this book to be heartbreaking in many ways, I also loved that it showed the power of love and hope.

OUTSIDE THE LINES would make an excellent book club selection. I get excited just thinking about all of the potential topics to discuss. There is a reading guide

I just adore Amy Hatvany's writing style and I consider myself one of her biggest fans. I can't wait to see what she writes next! Highly recommended!

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


bermudaonion said...

I've got to try one of Hatvany's books - they sound wonderful. Writing about mental illness can be tricky but it sounds like she's done it well.

Serena said...

why have I not heard of these books before...they sound good.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've been wanting to read her. I do appreciate a novel that gives you more than one point of view, especially when one of them is controversial. There is always two sides to a story!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you about Best Kept Secret being the better novel, although I did like this one quite a bit. Eden frustrated me, but I appreciated the theme running through the novel of learning to love people where they are in life, as opposed to where you would like them to be. Great review today!