Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Until She Comes Home

Summary: In 1958 Detroit, on Alder Avenue, neighbors struggle to care for neighbors amid a city ripe with conflicts that threaten their peaceful street.

Grace, Alder’s only expectant mother, eagerly awaits her first born. Best friend Julia prepares to welcome twin nieces. And Malina sets the tone with her stylish dresses, tasteful home, and ironfisted stewardship of St. Alban’s bake sale.

Life erupts when childlike Elizabeth disappears while in the care of Grace and Julia. All the ladies fear the recent murder of a black woman at the factory on Willingham Avenue where their husbands work may warn of what has become of Elizabeth, and they worry what is yet to become of Julia—the last to see Elizabeth alive.

The men mount an around-the-clock search, leaving their families vulnerable to sinister elements hidden in plain sight. Only Grace knows what happened, but her mother warns her not to tell. “No man wants to know this about his wife.” Ashamed that her silence puts loved ones in harm’s way, Grace gravitates toward the women of Willingham Avenue, who recognize her suffering as their own. Through their acceptance, Grace conquers her fear and dares to act.

On Alder Avenue, vicious secrets bind friends, neighbors, and spouses. For the wicked among them, the walk home will be long. -- Dutton

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up a copy of UNTIL SHE COMES HOME by Lori Roy. I needed a book for Mystery Mondays and I knew that Ms. Roy's debut novel BENT ROAD won an Edgar Award, so I did have some pretty high expectations. I am happy to say that UNTIL SHE COMES HOME did not disappoint. I actually ended up reading this entire novel in less than 24 hours.

UNTIL SHE COMES HOME takes place in the late 1950s in the Alder Avenue neighborhood of Detroit. It is the heat of the summer and tensions are volatile due to race relations; however, when a black woman in found brutally murdered near the factory where the husbands all work, the citizens of the neighborhood really begin to worry. And then, Elizabeth a mentally challenged young woman goes missing after leaving Grace's home (and supposedly reaching her own house as seen by Grace's best friend Julia); and the citizens fear that their neighborhood is no longer safe.

My summary only begins to scratch the surface of the complex and thought-provoking novel. I hesitate to say much more than this because I think the book is best left to be experienced by each individual reader; however, you can read the publisher's summary for a few more details if you want them! I think it's enough to say that I started this book knowing virtually nothing about the story, and I was blown away by Ms. Roy's writing style. Days after finishing this novel, I'm still thinking about how well l she brought the setting and characters to life.

UNTIL SHE COMES HOME is technically a mystery (and that's why I'm featuring it as part of Mystery Mondays); however, I think the strength of this novel is in the way the author writes about the characters and the relationships in their lives. This book will definitely appeal to fans of mysteries but even more so to fans of women's literature. This novel focuses primarily on three women -- Julia, a woman still trying to heal from the loss of her infant daughter; Grace, Julia's best friend and an expectant mom; and Malina, a battered wife who begins to suspect her husband might have a wandering eye.

While the story in UNTIL SHE COMES HOME centers around the missing Elizabeth and the neighborhood's intense search to find out what happened to her, I loved how this book explored the complexities behind these three women. All of them were dealing with some very serious issues and keeping secrets from those they love, and I thought Ms. Roy made their thoughts and actions extremely real. The pain these woman experienced came through the pages of this novel, and their growing desperation made me fear for each one of them.

Of course, the intensity of the story and the way it unfolded is a credit to Ms. Roy. There is no doubt that this woman can really write! However, I also was especially impressed with how well she brought 1950s Detroit to life. I could almost feel the heat of the pavement and the mounting tensions in the Alder Avenue neighborhood as its inhabitants began to become more desperate to eliminate the changes that were happening in their neighborhoods. In addition, I thought Ms. Roy managed to make the reader understand the racial tensions that were taking place during this time in Detroit. I have a feeling that the author did her fair share of research prior to writing UNTIL SHE COMES HOME.

UNTIL SHE COMES HOME would make a fantastic book club selection because it deals with so many compelling issues. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a reading guide; however, I can almost promise that you won't need a formal discussion guide to talk about this novel. Some of the themes you might want to explore include racism, discrimination, friendship, fear, community, marriage, parenthood, loss, grief, mental illness, secrets, and much more! Trust me when I say that UNTIL SHE COMES HOME is a very complex and its story lines are multi-dimensional.

I mentioned that I thought Ms. Roy did an amazing job of bringing 1950s Detroit to life, and I think this trailer which explains the inspiration behind the novel gives some insight into her thought process:

Overall, UNTIL SHE COMES HOME was a terrific read and I can't wait to go back and read Ms. Roy's award winning debut novel BENT ROAD!

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Our book club read Bent Road, and had the chance to talk to Roy on the phone. I had issues with that book, probably because blurbs were comparing her to Tana French and there is no way. But looking back, I do remember some great elements of the book, so maybe my issue was more with the audio version, I'm just not sure. She does a great job with that time period, and explores relationships a little deeper than the typical mystery thriller.

bermudaonion said...

I really like books set during that time period. This sounds like a real page turner!

Beth Hoffman said...

This book sounds like it's right up my alley and I'm adding it my list right now!