REVIEW: Her.ie's Book of the Month - Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
February was an exciting month for the bookworms in Her.ie Towers, as we finally formed our Book Club and chose our first Book of the Month.
For our first outing, we opted for Joyce Maynard's coming-of-age novel Labor Day. The book, released in 2009, has now been adapted for the big screen and a film version starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin will land in Irish cinemas on Friday, the 21st of March.
For an in-depth discussion on the book, you can check out our podcast here. Below, book club members Rebecca, Úna, Sue, Cathy and Michelle give their condensed take on our February find.
Labour Day is a story about love and escape, compassion and confusion. It explores human nature and relationships in extreme circumstances and is more so about the people involved in a situation than what actually happens in that situation. One of the most striking things about Joyce Maynard’s book that I found intriguing and surprisingly engaging is that it explores the connection between two people from an outsider’s point of view.
At first it takes a while to adapt to this type of narrative but it is done in such a way that you don’t lose out on the intimacy or complexity of the relationship. However I must admit that it was also frustrating at times to see an adult relationship through the eyes of a teenage boy. Speaking of frustration, it is also a story that I think takes time and a lot of patience. If you persist with it, it is worth it in the end. In fact, I’d say the final two or three chapters really saved the book for me. It wasn’t that it wasn’t good up until that point, it’s just that this is when the pieces of the story really come together and things start to happen. I actually thought I knew where the story was going to finish up but I was wrong, in a good way. The ending ties up all the strands of the narrative in a satisfying conclusion that made this hopeless romantic very content.
When I first delved into Labor Day, I was sure what to expect. In the beginning it felt like a predictable story with naïve characters that bordered on irritating, but once I got about three-quarters of the way through the book I started to understand it and its characters a bit more.
The book itself has a steady pace from start to finish, with only a handful of characters that you had to be concerned about with the final few chapters ultimately saving the book from an endless tale of relatively menial events.
Labor Day is told through the eyes of 13-year-old Henry Wheeler but I can’t help but think that the whole event may have been a bit more appealing had it been from his mother’s perspective who we learn went through a lot physically and mentally.
With constant references to sex and puberty from Henry, there are some aspects of the book that remained quite repetitive and though you can kind-of understand his perspective, I felt it pulled the story back from being interesting to something that was a bit mundane and “done before”. Ultimately however, when you finish the book and reflect further on the themes and interactions throughout the whole story, you definitely would have more of an appreciation for it and the character development.
A word of warning; it does require a lot of patience.
From the outset, it is pretty important to say that Labor Day is one of those books that will probably mean a lot more after you finish the last chapter than when you are reading it. The book flies by, you will devour the entire thing in a few hours if you put your mind to it, but unfortunately you will never really feel like you are reading something that is particularly profound.
In terms of the characters, because the book is written from the view point of a 13-year-old boy, the book often requires that you fill in some of the blanks about Frank and Adele's relationship, much like the lead character, Henry, is forced to do. While you will feel incredibly sorry for Adele due to her broken marriage and the children she lost, you will always remain slightly suspicious of Frank and his motives.
Even with some really obvious faults, like how bland some of the chapters can be, this is an incredibly easy read and quite an enjoyable one but perhaps don't expect too much from it.
I had mixed feelings about this book. For the first half I really wasn’t sold on it, but that changed as I read on.
As the story is told from the viewpoint of one person, (Henry), it’s difficult to get a feel for the other characters and you wonder why they make certain decisions. However, Henry does have a knack for storytelling and you’re drawn into the plot, almost against your will.
It’s a love story with a difference, instead of hearts and flowers the characters are faced with moral dilemmas. It also plays on the dynamics involved in different relationships: parents and their children, hormonal teenagers and star-crossed lovers. While the story seems far-fetched to begin with, once you get to know the details and the reasons why certain characters act the way they do, things begin to fall into place. This is where my mind began to change and I felt empathy for more than one person in the story. Without giving too much away, I do think Labor Day is worth a read but keep in mind that it’s laborious to begin with (excuse my terrible joke). Keep with it and you may find yourself a Joyce Maynard convert by the last chapter, which really is a good one.
Labor Day is not the kind of book I would have picked up on sight, but following our first Book Club I have decided I would happily read other releases by Joyce Maynard. During our podcast, we found that every member of the Her.ie team felt the same. This coming-of-age story is unique in that the tale is told from a thirteen-year-old boy. At times, this makes for uncomfortable reading, as young Henry is at a very confusing and emotional stage of his development. How he views his mother's new relationship - her first since Henry's father left the family - is wonderfully described, reminding the reader just how hard those hormone-driven early teen years are.
Others have pointed out that 'not much happens', which is true, as the majority of the book is dedicated to a very short period of time. But I found beauty in the nuances of seemingly-simple domestic scenes and far more went unsaid.
This book is an easy read; give it a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday and you'll be finished before you know it. However, it stays with you long after you've turned the final page - always the mark of a good read, I find! The characters are well-drawn and well-rounded. No one is without their bad points, their secrets and their failings, but in the end all they yearn for is love. And who among us can't identify with that?
We'll be announcing our March Book of the Month this week. We'd love for you to join in and read our pick too, then share your opinions for the chance to win some great prizes!