Monday, 1 September 2014

Labor Day Read-Along: My Book Review, Discussion Questions, and Movie Review

Please note this review does contain spoilers.

Book Description from
With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart. 

 But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.

Book Review
Labor Day by Joyce Maynard is part love story, part coming of age novel. I was actually surprised this novel wasn't considered Young Adult. The book description on the back of the book gives no indication whatsoever that this book is narrated by the son, Henry.. I wasn't expecting this and was expecting more of an adult romance novel. It's not that there's anything wrong with this. It's just that I've been reading a lot of YA this year and was looking for something from an adult perspective. Had I read the story description from Amazon I would have expected this.

A quote from Jane Hamilton is on the cover calling the story "sexy." Yes it had the great potential to be a sexy story but considering it is the son describing his mother having relations with Frank, to call it "sexy" is just a bit twisted in my opinion. The romance between Frank and Adele is quite sexy and thrilling when you imagine just them. There's not much appeal in listening to a child describe his mother's love affair.

I loved the character of Frank. I always fall for the misunderstood bad boys with a heart of gold so I fell in love with Frank along with Adele. Frank was surprising in so many ways. If it wasn't for the fact that he was an escaped prisoner, I would have considered him to be too good to be true (in a good way) and the ideal husband. 

However, he seemed to be in complete denial about his situation, as was Adele. I also was surprised at how well and how quickly he adapted to life outside of prison. I don't think someone who just escaped the prison he was in for 18 years would be concerned with all the little chores he helped Adele do. I know they may come pick me up anytime and I'll never see you again but let's paint the storm windows. Seriously?

Adele was a deeply complex character and I loved that about her. She appeared to have mental illness but when her back story is explained you understand why she behaves the way that she does to a point. That said, if you have suffered from miscarriage or stillbirth this story will be extremely hard for you to read.

However, as complex as she was, I felt she was a selfish mother and no amount of trauma excuses her of that. Up until meeting Frank she treats her son almost like a surrogate husband and speaks to him about things that are extremely inappropriate. She put her love for Frank (a man she had known for only a handful of days) over the needs of her son and even disregards the custody she shares with her ex husband. 

The moment that Henry reveals to his friend Eleanor that Frank is at his house, you knew what Frank's fate was going to be. It was just a matter of time. What frustrated me is that Henry is more angry at Eleanor than he is himself for being stupid enough to tell her about Frank. 

Henry's character overall frustrated me. I understand he is a teenage boy but he is basically obsessed with sex. Hearing him ramble on for the fourth time about all the girls he's attracted to and would like to have sex with got annoying. 

He also couldn't make up his mind about how he felt about Frank and his mother. I understand that is completely normal but he seemed to change his mind whenever he talked to Eleanor. Eleanor is a know it all, cynical brat and I wanted so badly for Henry to tell her to shut up because she doesn't know what she's talking about.

What completely ruined the story for me was how at the end, Adele voluntarily gave up custody of Henry to her ex husband.  I think she made the right choice but the way Maynard treated this infuriated me. Maynard wrote as if this was no big deal or at least doesn't tell us how this is traumatic for Adele. I found it impossible to believe a woman that was devastated by miscarriage and a still birth would handle giving up her only child so well.

I did like the ending of the book though. I never had considered the possibility that Frank would try to get back with Adele after he was released from prison. I thought that was unbelievably romantic. 

I have one final observation but not really a complaint. None of the dialogue has apostrophes. I didn't know writers were even allowed to do that. 

Overall I found this book to be a page turner but contrived and completely unrealistic. Maynard is extremely talented at writing complex characters but the story was just too unbelievable to me. My rating  Photobucket 

Labor Day Discussion Questions
This post has already ran quite long so I will only post my answers to the questions. You can find the list here.

1. I didn't see Henry as being steady at all. Sure it's easy to appear steady when you follow a daily routine and remain isolated, but whenever Henry starts interacting with the outside world he doesn't seem to know what he wants or feels. Yes I felt Adele was a bad mother in some ways. I explain why earlier in this post.

2. I knew Frank was a good guy from the beginning. Why? Because this book is described as a love story. What I didn't expect was for him to be so sensitive and caring. The scenes when he is interacting with the challenge boy were particularly touching. I expected to like him but didn't expect to develop a crush on him myself.

3. We never know Adele's thoughts so I wonder if she was as trusting as she first appears. How could I be surprised though because if she hadn't there would be no story. I think Adele did it because he was hot and she craved adventure.

4. Because he loves his mother and would rather be with her than with his father where he feels like an outsider. He hides his mother's behavior to protect himself not her.

5. No it was not surprising that Frank was a good baker. The pie making technique was charming in itself but then it's later used in the story when Henry is an adult. I was more surprised how the pie making was what stuck with Henry.

6. Henry is at puberty. Frank is transitioning to freedom. But Adele wasn't transitioning to anything until Frank showed up. It's like she needed something to help her find happiness again. It's summer transitioning to fall. It's a cliche. 

7. I don't think Henry understands what family truly means until the end of the book. He realizes that all families are messed up just in different ways. There is no normal or regular family. And family doesn't always mean blood related.

8. Eleanor seemed cool at first but as my 18 yr old daughter would describe her, she was "thirsty" for sex. She appeared at first to be a misguided but cynical friend but was just using Henry in the end. I knew she would rat Frank out the second Henry told her about him. She had motivation to get the reward.

9. Eleanor was projected her own fears and experiences onto Henry. That was her experience so she expects it to be his too.

10. His conflicting feelings were completely normal. He seemed to finally reconcile them when he tests his mother and Frank by mentioning that he will get left behind and they confirm that isn't the case at all. He realizes they were just empty fears.

11. The only thing that would have definitely been different is the pie making story would not have ended up in the magazine. His mother may have kept custody of him but I doubt it. She seemed like if she hadn't had met Frank she would've had some kind of mental breakdown. 

12. There's really know way of knowing because we never read anything from Adele's point of view. But Adele knew she had some mental issues that she needed to deal with and taking care of Henry at the same time was not in his best interests. Or maybe she blamed Henry for Frank getting caught. It's hard to say. Henry returns because he loved her and understood she was mentally ill.

13. What kind of person is Eleanor? She was never developed enough to say one way or the other especially when Henry meets her again. I think the dog was named Jim because she liked Jim Morrison.

14. I think Henry's father was completely wrong in his observation that Adele was "in love with love." Women who are "in love with love" are constantly chasing after relationships. Adele was not like this as all. Although I do think she was in complete denial of how her and Frank would end up but I think her love was real and sincere especially because she was never with anyone afterwards. It's like she waited for him to get out of prison.

15. I have experiences that were life altering in bad ways but I am still grateful I met the person involved. Adele seemed to be the only women who ever truly loved Frank and Frank's baby died so Henry was his chance to be a father figure. There are things Frank may have never had otherwise. Yes love like that (at first sight) can exist. I fell in love immediately with my husband and we were inseparable from the time we met.

Movie Review
The movie was different from the book in onlya few minor ways and one major one. The major one being that there was no chemistry at all between Frank and Adele. It was impossible for me to believe that Adele had fallen in love with him and wanted to run away with him. However, I found it easy to believe Josh Brolin. I thought he did a great job in this movie.

I blame Kate Winslet's bad acting. I've always felt the woman's facial expressions never change. When she speaks emotionally her face never seem to match what she is saying unless she is smiling. I do think she has an amazing smile but the character of Adele rarely smiles.

A few minor differences from the book is that Henry doesn't tell Eleanor about Frank (she guesses). There's a horrible scene where the kid in the wheelchair gets smacked across the face by his mother. It's also never revealed who tipped off the police. I almost liked this part better than book because no one is to blame in the movie version. In the book, it was clearly Henry's fault because he couldn't keep a secret.

The flashback secnes and montages of Henry's fantasies would be confusing for someone who hadn't read the book. Lastly, the music. I don't know who chose the music for this movie but it was grating. The movie only gets Photobucket

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