Angie Voorster is the epitome of the all-American girl: successful,
attractive and well-liked. A good student and champion swimmer, she
is bound for college. That she is a bit manic is chalked up to
normal teenage anxiety and pressure. She is high-spirited after
all! But when during a swim meet Angie dives into the pool and
stays at the bottom, the Voorster family finally realizes that all
is not well with Angie.
Katharine Noel's first novel, HALFWAY HOUSE, follows the Voorster
family in the years after Angie's breakdown and subsequent bipolar
With the incident in the pool, Angie and her family --- her younger
brother Luke and parents Pieter and Jordana --- set out on the long
road of trying to understand Angie's disorder, stabilize it and
cope with it. Of course, it is toughest for Angie. She misses a
year of school and graduates late. She is heavily medicated and
still swings between mania and suicidal depressions. She lives in a
series of hospitals and facilities apart from her family.
But each family member is challenged by her illness. Angie's
condition begins to pull apart her parents' relationship. Pieter, a
professional cellist, becomes withdrawn and introspective. Jordana,
who had been having an affair, feels exposed, guilty and needy.
They struggle to keep their marriage intact.
Luke, less ambitious and successful than his sister in their
adolescence, flies under his parents' radar, practically living
with his high school girlfriend before eventually going away to
college and falling in love with a mild-mannered student who is the
opposite of his sister in many ways. This college girlfriend,
Wendy, feels that Luke is more committed to his sister than to her
--- and in many ways she is right. After years of dealing with
Angie's unpredictability and emotional and physical needs, Luke is
centered on his sister.
And as Angie grows into adulthood she feels it necessary to assert
her independence from the family that, of late, has defined
themselves by her illness.
Noel's prose is lovely; poetic yet realistic and very readable. She
portrays her characters with honesty and intelligence, allowing
them flaws and a gritty humanity while keeping them likable.
Angie's manic and depressive episodes are stunningly written. Both
extremes feel claustrophobic and intense for the reader. Noel's
descriptions of Angie's thoughts and actions are unflinching and
often uncomfortable. But this is also what makes the novel unique
HALFWAY HOUSE is about a family once ideal but now surviving the
best way it can in a difficult and highly charged situation. Noel
lets the Voorsters each respond to the crises in their own way,
never allowing the reader to forget that this is Angie's
In Angie Voorster, Noel has created a memorable character, one who
is warm and amazing, strong and sometimes frightening. While it is
mostly Angie's story, Noel's novel is also about the dynamics
between Luke and Angie, and how they depend on each other.
HALFWAY HOUSE is a very intense and enjoyable debut from a young
novelist with promise and talent.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011