Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries
Genre: Fiction, Family Saga, Women’s Fiction
Format: 25 Chapters – split sporadically by character views
First Line: “It was terribly hot that summer Mr. Robertson left town, and for a long while the river seemed dead.”
Description from Book: In most ways, Isabelle and Amy are like any mother and her 16-year-old daughter, a fierce mix of love and loathing exchanged in their every glance. That they eat, sleep and work side by side in the gossip-ridden mill town of Shirley Falls only increases the tension. And just when it appears things can’t get any worse, Amy’s sexuality begins to unfold, causing a vast and icy rift between mother and daughter that will remain unbridgeable unless Isabelle examines her own secretive and shameful past. Elizabeth Strout evokes a teenager’s alienation from her distant mother — and a parent’s rage at the discovery of her daughter’s sexual secrets.
Topics Covered: family relationships, secrets, haunted pasts, family dynamics, friendships, coming of age, self-discovery
My Review: “Amy and Isabelle” by Elizabeth Strout is the type of story that silently slips into your mind, pulling at your thoughts throughout the day. What at first is seemingly a mother-and-daughter relationship book quickly evolves into a complex and intricate web of themes: family dynamics, growing up, finding your identity, etc.
Isabelle (mother) and Amy (teenage daughter) live in a small town in Massachusetts, where the river seems to mimic the actions and feelings of the residents. From working at the mill office together to being forced through silent dinners, Amy and Isabelle are intertwined in a way that leaves the reader perplexed and restless, eager for the next bits of information. The story moves along slowly, much like the hot summer days found in the book. Despite this and a lack of true climax in the story, the novel sticks with you like sweat on a summer day. I found myself thinking about the characters, their challenges, and what lay ahead for their futures throughout the entire time I read the book.
Amy slowly begins to pull away from Isabelle, recognizing how many mountains her own mother has to climb in self-discovery. Mixing this change with Amy’s new-found sexuality, their relationship comes to a head, letting secrets, resentments, and regrets flow freely from both. Beyond the scope of Amy and Isabelle’s relationship, the book also presents you with other circling relationship themes: neighborhood relations, infidelity, regrets, feelings of stagnancy, secrets in a small town.
Overall, I simply adored this book. It perfectly complimented memories of my own slow, hazy days of summer as a teenager, while also understanding the shame that comes from one’s past as an adult. If you haven’t read Strout’s work yet, you’re missing out on the perfect sip of summers from the past.
Overall Rating: 4/5
The kind of laugh that comes from two women who have known each other for many years, who take comfort and joy in the small, familiar expressions of one another, and who feel, once the laugh has run its course – with an occasional small giggle still left, and a tissued patting of the eyes – a lingering warmth of human connection, the belief that one is not, after all, so very much alone.