by Lorna J. Cook

To parents, teenagers can seem like imposters; rude or moody
versions of their previously sweet and affectionate children. To
teenagers, parents are often alien; illogical and oppressive
human-like creatures. Each is trying to negotiate the relationship
with sometimes good, sometimes awful, and usually unpredictable
results. This navigation of parent-teenager relationships is the
subject of Lorna J. Cook's novel, DEPARTURES. A coming-of-age story
told from the perspective of teenage siblings Suzen and Evan
VanderZee, DEPARTURES is a glimpse into a somewhat atypical family
at the moment the oldest children are asserting their emotional and
physical independence.

Seventeen-year-old Suzen, who prefers spending time at the nursery
where she works and with her boss Mary, is withdrawing into
herself. She sees her friends less and less and doesn't miss them
much. She rarely talks to her parents or her three younger
siblings. And when people ask her about boys, she feels something
like emptiness inside. She dreams of the misty moors of England and
the polite and corseted lives of the Brontes. Her younger brother
Evan, fifteen, is restless. His efforts to get his father to take a
sabbatical in Italy are proving fruitless. He escapes into old
movies and narrates his life like he is the hero of one. When he
meets the mysterious and adventurous Soci Andersson, it seems
things may finally get interesting.

Parents Esme and Malcolm seem to feel their oldest children
slipping away, but are at a loss as to how to communicate with
them. Their youngest children demand more attention than Suzen and
Evan do, especially after a near disastrous accident that leaves
youngest Aimee a religious zealot and Hallie wracked with

Suzen and Evan find that their parents are frustrating and selfish
or weak. As the two teenagers begin to view the world with more
adult eyes, they also begin to take a very critical look at their
parents. To Suzen, her mother's vanity and sexuality are more than
embarrassing. Suzen is angry at her mother's womanliness and easy
flirtations. Sexuality is an issue Suzen wrestles with, unsure of
her feelings toward men and her interest in women. All of this is
further complicated by a man who keeps calling Esme. Suzen is
convinced Esme is betraying Malcolm and it gives her more fodder
for her anger and doubt.

Evan's desire to see his father's dreams fulfilled are mixed up
with his own desires to leave his hometown, see the world, find
romance and explore his own sexuality. This is just what happened
to Malcolm, Evan learns, when he left home for a trip abroad. Soon
Italy becomes a symbol of escape and maturity for Evan.

DEPARTURES is interesting in its narrative perspective --- giving
Suzen and Evan clear voices despite emotional immaturity and
confusion. Cook's prose is lyrical and rhythmic, not always flowing
easily, but often lovely. The VanderZees are intelligent, artistic,
witty and attractive, not your run-of-the-mill family. Still, much
of their experience is familiar. Cook's novel is bittersweet and
thoughtful. It may not stay with you a very long time but it is
still an enjoyable read --- observant, wry, honest and full of

In DEPARTURES readers will find a good story of a family with
children on the verge of adulthood and parents working to overcome
complacency. Lorna J. Cook is a new author to keep an eye on. Her
style will certainly mature into something unique and


Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 29, 2010

by Lorna J. Cook

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 0312321295
  • ISBN-13: 9780312321291