An intensely moving story of loss, survival, and brotherly love.
The prospect of losing a parent is a fearful part of every child’s reality as they grow up, but to lose both parents, as the nuclear family of brothers in this novel did, is something particularly tragic. Readers are given an intimate glimpse of teenage life through the eyes of orphans, and the resultant story is nothing less than heartfelt and inspiring.
When Fred, Ben, Steve, and Ed lose their mother, they are faced with a difficult decision: report her passing to the authorities and risk being separated or placed in the system, or try to fend for themselves in a world they’re hardly ready for. Within the first two chapters, some of the fundamental struggles of raising a child – getting them to school on time and keeping food on the table – are shown in painstaking detail. Many of these basic tasks are often taken for granted in an adult-run household, but readers are invited to witness a veritable free-for-all with Ed, a teenager himself, trying to hold the family together.
Ed is the primary narrative perspective in the novel, and as he maneuvers his way through romance, faux-parenthood, and his own method of mourning his mother, he also grows right before the reader’s eyes. His introspection changes to altruism and concern for his brothers, his immaturity begins to disappear, and the Big Picture of growing up becomes clear. This book documented the shift from day-to-day survival to the pursuit of long-term dreams, as well as the constant challenges along that road.
Akerlund is careful to present four distinct personalities in the core characters, and while the early parts of the book largely center around Ed and Steve, the focus begins to balance out between all four young men, as well as the peripheral characters, like Matt and Gavin. Their musical aspirations at first seem like pipe dreams, and I didn’t like how quickly their little family band suddenly had a manager and “groupies”. That aspect of the novel was slightly unrealistic, and while the pace slowed down eventually, it seemed like the landscape and framework that “success” provided for the rest of the story could have been developed a bit more believably.
The writing is emotional at times, but falters at others, particularly with the internal narration. The author seemed to provide long, expository explanations to move an idea or a relationship forward, rather than accomplishing the same goal with actual interaction between characters. This can be seen as a crutch for an author, and one that Akerlund should cut back on. Her talent for character development and rich, emotionally honest scenes is clear, so writing in a more demonstrative manner shouldn’t be too hard.
This novel was certainly ambitious, but with so many different issues being tackled all at once (grief, drug addiction, fraternal love, success, money, sexual discovery, etc.), readers never get a “payoff revelation,” with the exception of drug problems, which were heavily addressed in certain sections. Furthermore, many scenes could have been polished or tightened up with the help of a healthy editorial eye, which would have also helped to focus the ultimate message behind the story.
Overall, this book is full of heart, and the painful lessons experienced by these young men on their road to success, recovery, and personal peace are uniquely presented. Akerlund could improve in certain areas, but her ability to depict familial bonds and the anxiety of youth is impressive to say the least.
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