hard to know what to say about this new novel from the duo that
brought us THE NANNY DIARIES and CITIZEN GIRL. There are three
things that compete for my attention: first, a clichéd plot
with several smaller clichéd subplots therein; second, an
incredible eye for detail and ear for dialogue that make scenes
sing; and third, a wholly unexpected ending that made me reconsider
the rest of the book (don't worry, no spoilers ahead).
The main plot concerns Kate Hollis, who has come home to Croton
Falls, Vermont, on extremely short notice just before the Christmas
holidays because "he" is in town. The "he" in question is Jake,
Kate's lifelong love and now a major music sensation whose recent
engagement to an acting sensation named Eden Millay has raised his
profile from high alert to fever pitch.
Kate stumbles into her childhood house only to find that her
parents are in the process of selling it and moving to Florida. For
reasons at this point still unclear to the reader, Kate's relations
with them are strained and she wants to confront Jake. While the
reasons for both are left deliberately vague, the impact is not
equal, and that uneven plot terrain left me longing for a pair of
figurative hiking boots. The back-and-forth between past and
present contributed to the feeling of not being able to find a sure
However, the second thing about this book is Nicola Kraus and Emma
McLaughlin's surefootedness with the past. Their rendering of a
late-'80s adolescence is perfect, complete with scrunchies, family
room furnishings and belted blazers.
While their account of the present is a little less finely drawn
(and that's ok), one of the things the authors get very right is
the segue of high school friendships into adult acquaintance. It
isn't easy to connect the gawky boy near the lockers with the
paunchy dad by the minivan; they show not only that the connection
is hard but that it can be made. This also goes for the
conversations between those friends when they're kids and when
they're grown-ups. Unlike some extended dialogue in novels that I
tend to skim over quickly, I found myself entertained by Kate's
back-and-forth with her friends. The affection there is
Less effective is the subplot about why Kate's parents are the way
they are and why she relates to them the way she does. I never felt
I truly understood why Kate's mother is so angry with Jake, and I
don't think I would even if I re-read DEDICATION.
A few words about the ending, without spoiling anything: along with
the weak parental subplot, there were quite a few sections of the
novel I felt could have been cut significantly. Not so for the last
couple of pages. There is something exactly right about them --- so
right that I hope Kraus and McLaughlin's next book is really good.
I'll be reading.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on December 29, 2010