Irrepressible Finny Short is just fourteen when she meets Earl Henkl in the fields surrounding her home. Finny, a precocious young woman with an oddly endearing family, finds herself liking Earl right from the start. The two soon form a close attachment and Finny, longing to be close to Earl, begins sneaking away from the house to spend time with the boy from the woods. When Finny's eccentric parents discover that she has been misleading them and sneaking off with a boy, they pack her up and ship her away to Thornton, a boarding school far from home. There Finny meets the beautiful and confident Judith, a girl who is adored by all but who also has a compulsive need for danger and excitement. She also meets Poplan, an older woman who will come to be a very important part of her life. As Finny matures, she is hit by several unexpected circumstances, one of them being the fact that she and Earl have such great distance between them, which continually severs their connection. She is also hit by devastating family issues and unpleasant situations with Judith, as well as the more normal and everyday occurrences that hasten her maturity. As Finny navigates her life amid the heartache of her relationship with Earl and the myriad betrayals of Judith, she learns to stand on her own two feet and creates a life for herself. Finny learns that to navigate the world, sometimes you just have to let go and go with it. Populated with outrageous and wonderful characters, Finny is the tale of a young woman's journey through life and of the love and longing that follows her everywhere.
Lately I've been enjoying coming-of-age stories. I've read quite a few in the last year but most of them have told the stories from the point of view of someone from times past or from foreign shores. I haven't read many that deal with a modern day American protagonist and I am happy to report that Finny fits that bill exactly. I wasn't sure what I would be getting with this book but to my surprise there was a lot that brought on nostalgia for me. Reading the book filled me with mixed emotions because I felt I could really understand Finny and her counterparts and the struggles they went through.
I have to admit that although Finny was the main focus of the story, the real stars of the show were the secondary characters. They were odd, eccentric and laugh out loud funny. Whenever I read about someone new entering the story, I immediately became alert to them, knowing that Kramon was going to do his best to make them stand out. From the couple who runs the funeral home to Earl's father to Poplan herself, these characters had a true breath of life in them and it was so interesting to read about them and all their idiosyncrasies. This supporting cast did not disappoint, and kept me thoroughly entertained throughout the story. These were characters reminiscent of some of Dicken's best and I think that's one of the reasons that I responded so gleefully towards them.
It actually took some time for me to feel an affinity for Finny. At first I found her very precocious. It might be because I have teenagers around the house that are this age, but I felt she had a smart mouth and was disrespectful to her parents. Though I had problems relating to her during these sections, she was remarkably similar to the teenagers that I have known in real life, making her a realistic, if frustrating, character. Later, when Finny began to mature and life began to have its way with her, I felt much closer to her because I thought that her trials humanized and matured her. She went from a bratty kid to a sensitive woman in a believable way. She seemed to start to change after leaving boarding school and became more considerate, less brash and more thoughtful. As she grew older I felt I liked her more, which I think is a great testament to the author's ability to create a multifaceted character who manifests growth and maturity as the story progresses. After a rough start, Finny and I ended up getting along quite nicely.
This is really a beautiful story of a girl growing up and it takes its readers on a journey from her youthful days of silliness to the more gravity filled days of her adulthood. What I found along the way was a moving story about love and compromise, not only in Finny's relationship with Earl, but really, with her relationship with all the people in her life. Whereas the youthful Finny could be pushy and opinionated, the older Finny was able to see the moral inbetweens of the circumstances her friends and family put her in. She became a remarkably forgiving and generous person, capable of true acts of altruism, which surprised me because the Finny of old might have never considered acting this way. She was also mostly an optimist, which was refreshing because in most coming-of-age stories I have read lately, things inevitably begin to take a darker turn during and after adolescence. In Finny was the capacity to be gentle, both with herself and others, and this most surprised me in her gentleness towards those who had done her wrong.
I also wanted to talk a little about Judith. For me, Judith was the character who I had the most complex feelings toward. Aside from the fact that she embellished the circumstances of her life so eagerly, Judith had a way of trampling over everyone and dominating every person in the story. I think Kramon did a great job making her three-dimensional and at times likable, but she just rubbed me the wrong way for most of the novel. I felt that she was beneath Finny and that Finny should have stayed away from her because she had the capacity for making messes in everyone's lives, including her own. I actually had a friend like Judith at one time and I had a hard time separating her from the character. Leaving her behind was very painful, and at times I still regret doing that, but by watching Finny's continual friendship with Judith, I realized some things about myself and how that friendship would have played out in my life.
This was a book that I truly enjoyed for several reasons and once I let myself be immersed in the story, I found I couldn't stop reading. It's a great coming-of-age story that wonderfully melds the themes of love, loss and forgiveness. Kramon has an unusual talent for sprinkling his tale with the kinds of characters that people love to read about. I think this book would be great for those who enjoy the coming-of-age genre and have been looking for something that deals with the believable heartaches and joys of a modern, American girl. I'd love to see what Kramon does in the future and will be keeping an eye out for his name on the spines. Recommended!
|About The Author
A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published stories in Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly, Boulevard, Fence, TriQuarterly, and others. He has received honors from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, The Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers’ Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation.
He teaches at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City and at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.
He lives in Philadelphia.
Find out more about Justin on his website.
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This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.