Monday, January 10, 2022

Allison Larkin - The People We Keep

Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a run-down motorhome, flunking out of school, and picking up shifts at the local diner. But when April realizes she’s finally had enough—enough of her selfish, absent father and barely surviving in an unfeeling town—she decides to make a break for it. Stealing a car and with only her music to keep her company, April hits the road, determined to live life on her own terms.
She manages to scrape together a meaningful existence as she travels, encountering people and places she’s never dreamed of, and could never imagine deserving. From lifelong friendships to tragic heartbreaks, April chronicles her journey in the beautiful music she creates as she discovers that home is with the people you choose to keep.

Comment: This is the third book I try by this author. Her other books are labeled as contemporary romance and this one is more along the lines of fictional coming of age and the main character is a teenager at first. Although I'm not a fan of YA, I was still interested to see how the author would execute this one, considering I liked her work before.

In this book we meet 16 year old April Sawicki, whose life is just a string of disappointments, mostly because her mother abandoned her and her father and he is not someone you can rely on. April is pretty much on her own in the motor home she calls her house, for her father is in a new relationship and she doesn't want to live with them. One day she finally find the courage to leave, so she takes a car and the music in her head and hits the road. As she drives through several states throughout the following years, always playing music to support herself and feel she has no strings, she still meets some people who have an impact on her life. But will April learn any lessons at all?

While going through the first chapters I imagined this would be a story about a young girl whose life is shaped by her experiences and the people she meets in her journey. In a way, we could summarize the plot this way but I must say the whole "learning and dealing with that knowledge" part wasn't as developed as the experience of being on the move for whatever reason April had, which means, in my opinion, the lesson she is supposed to learn didn't seem to be as definitive as I hoped for when the last page was turned.

April is a fascinating character, pretty much a loner and easily distracted by her thoughts and emotions, which is good when we think her dream is to write and perform songs but I think the author did use too much of the book's page count to set up April on her journey and to make her share what was happening and not enough on what supposed lessons she gained, and this makes the end feel a bit rushed and without proper closure. I, for one, expected some more definite scenes to play out and they didn't.

The book is divided into several parts and in each April is a little older, has already had some experiences dealing with strangers, dealing with the bar scene if she wants to play music... for the most part, I liked reading about what she was doing and how what happened affected her - she obviously has good people helping her and not so good people trying to take advantage - and more important, how she felt about the whole situation and whether that meant she wanted to have a nomad life for longer or not.

I can see how her childhood and negligent affections from those who should be her support shaped up her personality and her desire to not belong to or with anyone. But people aren't islands in the sense we necessarily have to interact with others and April wanting to perform, of course this had to be part of her days. At some point, I thought the music and the habits April forms while trying to be a professional would be a story on her road to become famous and perhaps how those in her life could change because of that and she would have to learn to keep some and let go of others.

It was not so, her journey is a lot simpler than that but at the same time, somewhat frustrating because it gets to a point where it feels she isn't going nowhere, always driving to the next place, or performing in the same spots, which can be good for she makes friends and acquaintances who help her next time she needs to play in a bar but... I kind of wish the learning experience had gone deeper into her perception of herself and of what it means to have people you can trust to help you.

The author also stresses out some people April meets and in some cases it feels as if that person will be very important. Here and there that is so and we can see how interacting with that person might be key to April's journey but for the most part I felt each person/situation was more a symbol of what one might find if we don't have roots to go back to a place we feel secure in or that we like unless it's too late. I mean, some situations were like a show case of potential scenarios, rather than a necessary part of April's experience.

In the end, April does seem to have grown up from what she saw and experienced and she does start relying on some people she met on the way but to me the anticipation didn't quite reach a high end because it did feel she was driving around in circles and not really learning, only dealing with things her way. This isn't a bad story for the theme (coming of age) but I expected more, for certain.
Grade: 7/10

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