Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tomorrow River: You Can Try to Put It Down, But You Won't Be Able to. I Guarantee It.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)
"The first and best place to start looking for answers, as always, begins and ends with my family" (199).

Nothing tickles my literary fancy quite like a good, old-fashioned family secrets novel. Especially one set in the South. Everything just seems more sinister when hidden behind soft drawls, magnolia-scented breezes and Tara-esque plantations, you know? I mean, you expect malevolence from broody northern climes and everyone knows how lawless things are out here in the west, but in the land of blushing belles and Southern gentleman - well, the appearance of evil is always surprising. Add in a spunky kid narrator, some quirky sidekicks and a nice, curvy plot, and voila! You've just created my absolute favorite kind of book. It's really no surprise, then, that I fell so hard for Lesley Kagen's spellbinding new novel, Tomorrow River.
Our heroine is Shenandoah "Shenny" Carmody, one of the the 11-year-old daughters of the most prominent man in town. Her family might as well be royalty in Rockbridge County, Virginia, for all their wealth and power. At least that's how things look from the outside. On closer inspection, one might notice what Shenny does - things are not exactly what they seem. The family's rambling mansion is looking decidedly grubby, the lady of the house is nowhere to be seen, His Honor's reeling in a manner unbefitting a man of his station, and his twins, well, something about the one is just a little off. An even closer look - assuming, of course, that prying eyes could get actually get anywhere near the property - would reveal that whatever is wrong over to the Carmody place is no small thing.
Ever since the disappearance of her mother, Shenny's been noticing things, things she'd never considered before. Things about her family. Troubling things. All she wants is for everything to go back to normal, the way it was when she spent her afternoons giggling with her sister in the treehouse, listening to her mother sing in the kitchen, and waiting breathlessly for nightfall, prime stargazing time for her and her daddy. But those carefree days are gone, vanished as surely as Evie Carmody. Shenny's twin, Woody, no longer giggles - she doesn't talk anymore, either. And His Honor? Well, when he's drunk (and when isn't he, these days?), he's disorderly. In the calmest, most terrifying way possible. The only way for Shenny to remedy the situation is to figure out what happened to her mother. Her own memories of that fateful night are sketchy, but someone has to know something. As she makes the rounds through her mother's motley collection of friends, Shenny comes to realize that the person most likely to know the truth is also the one least likely to say anything at all - her mute twin.
As desperate as Shenny is to find her mother, others are just as happy to shove the unpleasantness behind them. Evie Carmody was a Northerner, after all, a foreigner who didn't even know enough to stay away from "the help." Whatever happened to her - well, maybe it was for the best. There's the Carmody image to think of, after all. There's just one niggling question, the thing that bugs Shenny most of all, especially considering what she now knows about the Carmody clan: If her mother was going to leave, why oh why, did she leave her beloved girls behind?
I don't know about Kagen's other novels (although you better believe I'll be getting my hands on both Whistling in the Dark and Land of a Hundred Wonders just as soon as I'm able), but her latest blends all my favorite elements into one taut, riveting thriller. Intensity isn't all the book has going for it, though. Woven through all the mystery is a coming-of-age story that's both funny and surprisingly tender. Pitting the innocence of youth against an aged evil works to near perfection here, creating the kind of book that you will simply not be able to put down. You can try, but in the end, you'll cave and devour it in one sitting. I guarantee it.
(Readalikes: Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen; Karen White's books, The Lost Hours and The Memory of Water come to mind.)
Grade: A
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for violence, mature themes and sexual innuendo
To the FTC, with love: I received Tomorrow River from the generous folks at Dutton. Thank you!

7 comments:

  1. This book sounds like one I would really like as well. Families with secrets and the South. Lovely. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I have an award for you Here Happy Reading! :)

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  3. This sounds wonderful, and I live about 30 miles from Rockbridge County Virginia. Thanks for the splendid review!

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  4. I dont see this title at my local libraries. Is this new? I see 2 other title maybe I'll try those ones.

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  5. Kay - It's really good - I'm sure you'll love it :)

    Kika - Thanks so much!

    Stephanie - Cool. I can't remember the name of the town it takes place in ... Maybe you'll recognize it :)

    Laura - The book came out in April, so yes, it's fairly new. I'm reading WHISTLING IN THE DARK right now - it's similar to TOMORROW RIVER, but not quite as good.

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  6. You hooked me with the this post. Our library is ordering this so I put my name on the hold list. Can't wait til it comes in. Great review.

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