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95 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely intriguing tale of an American family in the midwest
An extremely intriguing tale of a family in the small town of Granada, Iowa during thirty years of their lives. It's a fine story with much humor, striking details and pity for some of the characters.

The tale starts in 1973 at the wedding of the oldest daughter in the Erickson clan. As they all are celebrating this event the troubles that will plague the...
Published on April 30, 2011 by M. Lignor

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lives of quiet desperation...
I wanted to like this novel much more than I actually did. When I closed the book after reading the last chapter (which, in my opinion, was the best in the entire saga, actually), I was left with vague feelings of disquiet. As Blake states when his brother Ryan wonders how the "old-timers" felt about their lives: "They didn't think in terms of happy."

This...
Published on July 1, 2011 by Denise Crawford


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95 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely intriguing tale of an American family in the midwest, April 30, 2011
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This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
An extremely intriguing tale of a family in the small town of Granada, Iowa during thirty years of their lives. It's a fine story with much humor, striking details and pity for some of the characters.

The tale starts in 1973 at the wedding of the oldest daughter in the Erickson clan. As they all are celebrating this event the troubles that will plague the family for three decades is beginning. The bride, Anita wants to marry a local guy and raise a family in the town she grew up in. The next child in line, Ryan, watches his sister marry and is already planning his escape from the town he has grown to despise. At the wedding, Ryan runs into his cousin, Chip, who is a Vietnam veteran. A very mixed up individual who is about to show Ryan the attraction and the dangers of freedom. There is another son, Blake, still in school and not altogether interested in anything at the moment. Last, but definitely not least, the youngest daughter, Torrie, also dreaming of putting the hometown in her rear view mirror as she speeds out of town. Unfortunately, the path she chooses will lead to tragedy that will alter many plans. I didn't mention Mom and Dad. These are regular folks that work hard and take care of their family as best they can.

This story moves from 1973 to 2003, from the farms of Iowa to Chicago and a short time in Italy. It takes us through the horror of the Vietnam War, the crisis facing the farms and the economic highs and lows when there were many foreclosures on homes in the midwest when the large farms had to shut down. This wonderful story follows the Erickson family through thick and thin, wealth and poverty, victories and failures as they work their way through life with all it's ups and downs and try to find a place for themselves in a changing world.

This novel was a real page turner and there is so much the reader will recognize in their own lives and will commiserate with this family. The "Pursuit of Happiness" takes on a whole new meaning. The author gives us a three decade long epic of an ordinary American family who lived their lives quietly and hopefully and went through all the trials and tribulations that face us all on a daily basis.
I was very impressed with this book and recommend it to all readers.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Quiet Book With A Big Wallop, May 1, 2011
This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
Jean Thompson has been aptly labeled "an American Alice Munro", and as a reader who has been mesmerized time and again by her captivating short-story collections, I wholeheartedly concur.

Now, in The Year We Left Home, Ms. Thompson leverages all her strengths and skills as a short-story writer and creates a sweeping and emotionally satisfying novel composed of interlocking, decade-spanning stories of a family in flux. As her grand theme, she takes on the universal quest for "home", exploring all the manifestations of that search.

The novel is bookended by two wars - the Vietnam War and the Iraqi War. It begins in 1973 when the Erickson family of Grenada, Iowa, gathers to celebrate the continuing of tradition with the marriage of the eldest daughter, Anita. As some family members - the parents, Anita and her new husband Jeff - get ready to take their place in pre-defined roles, others are restlessly searching for a way out of Iowa - notably, her brother Ryan.

As this fiercely American novel takes this family down the road of its personal setbacks and triumphs, the country, too, is going through its own weaving road: from war to peace to war again, through economic booms to heartbreaking farm crises, from conventional values to sweeping changes. Ryan reflects, "The Great State of Alienation. It stretched from sea to shining sea. Everybody in America is one of two things, either in or out. His wife was right, they'd worked so hard and were so proud to be on the outside of everything they'd grown up with. But they were inside of nothing but themselves."

As the family disperses, each must strive to get back to that central core, a place to feel at ease. Their cousin Chip, a war-damaged Vietnam vet whose mind has become uncentered, has, perhaps, the further distance to navigate; he must travel geographically and emotionally to reach the place that he has known as home.

But the others must also embark on their own personal journeys - confronting alcoholism, life-altering accidents, divorces, agoraphobia, professional setbacks, low-grade discontent and changing standards to reach their own personal centers and to embrace their own realities. Ms. Thompson seems to imply that we all face our own forms of disconnect, but with recognition and a little effort, we will eventually arrive at "true home."

Only one of the characters - the younger brother, Blake - chooses to stay home and follow what appears to be his predestined path. Although he is the most content of the siblings, he does not escape unscathed. There are days in which he, too, ponders where life has taken him and whether he should have been more of a risk-taker.

As a new generation follows their generation, Ryan again reflects, "They had done so much. They had meant to do so much more. Imagine them slipping off to death regretting the task unfinished, the field unplowed, the child unloved."

Richly told, finely crafted, authentically explored, The Year We Left Home gives new insights into home, family, and indeed, the American experience. Those who enjoy books such as Elizabeth Stout's Olive Kitteridge - quiet books that pack a big wallop - this is a must-read.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Puts me in mind of Richard Russo, May 17, 2011
By 
B. PERRY "Hoosier Dogwalker" (Indianapolis, Indiana in the USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
What a well-written book -- characters, heaped upon themselves, so fully developed that I could see them. Will not write paragraphs or an actual review -- will just say I have not enjoyed a book as much as this one in quite a while. The writer, Jean Thompson, is a great storyteller. Reminded me of Richard Russo's family tales -- humorous, in parts, intriguing and vivid.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lives of quiet desperation..., July 1, 2011
This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
I wanted to like this novel much more than I actually did. When I closed the book after reading the last chapter (which, in my opinion, was the best in the entire saga, actually), I was left with vague feelings of disquiet. As Blake states when his brother Ryan wonders how the "old-timers" felt about their lives: "They didn't think in terms of happy."

This novel was a series of disjointed vignettes spanning 1973-2003, told in alternating points of view, that give us a snapshot into both the banal and the significant moments in the lives of the large extended Nordic, Lutheran, Erikson family who were born and raised in the rural Midwestern small town of Grenada, Iowa. Each child tries to "leave" in his or her own way, and the picture that emerges as each person tells their story is one of hopeful alienation and the pain of self discovery. It was all somewhat depressing. The tales related in each section reflect the events going on in each of the main characters' lives -- Anita, Ryan, Blake, Torrie -- but also involve their cousins, parents and other relatives and how they all are a part of a family that was "built to last" despite all the trials and tribulations. There are some unfinished stories that left me with questions about what happened "after" or how things ended up the way they did, but though the author sometimes picks up that story line again in a later chapter, some were left dangling. The brothers and sisters seemed to limp painfully toward adulthood, but there are a few triumphs amidst their struggles.

The last paragraph -- as one of the children sums up his analysis of his ancestral past and his hope for the future -- is absolutely one of the best parts of this book and one I will remember for a very long time. Any curious reader will simply have to get the book and read it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I want to like it so much more..., June 5, 2011
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This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
I agree with other reviewers that this novel starts off very well indeed and putters out along the way. I admire its scope and ambition and its warm-heartedness - it seeks to explore American decline through the lives of a small-town family in Iowa. It has appealing, realistic characters who encounter so much of what we have experienced over the past 30 years. The novel explores two wars, Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan; the demise of family farming; the ocassional joys, dangers, and powerful limiting effect of parenting; the computer/technology revolution and bust; the particular difficulties of life for women pre and post feminism; meth and drug use and other small and big town troubles; the increase in divorce rates and the sadness of empty-nesting - and that is just a partial list. But I could not shake the thought that the author is really a very good short story writer out of her element with the novel. Essentially these are short stories with the same characters. And despite the novel's grand ambitions it is weakened by the fact that most of what happens to the characters happens off stage, between the chapters. Potentially, that could be okay, but it does not work in a book with so many characters and that aspires to such impact and sweep over time and that explores so many changes.

Not sad I read it. I enjoyed it, but its impact was less than I had hoped.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Read, May 22, 2011
This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
The book is like taking a captivating walk through 30 years of remembering all those that touched your life and the things that changed throughout those years.

If these walls could talk comes to mind as you travel through not only those having personal setbacks, there are those that are confronting alcoholism, there are life altering accidents, divorces and economic changes but as you see these challenges you also see the accomplishments, and you will feel the love and happiness and see the many triumphs.

This book tells a story from different characters so you are seeing different views from different personalities as each reflects to find the place they are and where the generations before them have been. You see those trying to adhere to the generations of traditions and those creating new traditions for the generations to come.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One family; lots of stories, May 30, 2011
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This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
The Year We Left Home is a terrific character-driven book that spans many decades of one family from Iowa. I realize that on its face this does not make the book sound tremendously exciting, and for that I apologize, because this book is simply lovely in every way.

Author Jean Thompson traces the lives of several family members from the 1970's to the present day. The main family members around which the novel are framed include Chip, a Vietnam veteran who is struggling to return to middle America after serving in the war; Ryan, his younger cousin who strives to get out of their small town; Anita, Ryan's quintessentially older sister; Torrie, his younger, free-spirited sister; and Audrey, the unexpectedly fragile matriarch of the clan.

I'm afraid it's really difficult to describe what is so good about this book, but I'll try. Often when books attempt to span large periods of time, they take on a Forrest-Gumpish quality where the characters have forced conversations about at all of the major historical events occurring at the time. Conversely, this book takes the approach of describing in loving, moving, and often humorous detail how people were just living their lives as most of us do, without getting derailed with ponderous discussions of the hallmarks of each era. To be sure, there are references to how the times they are a-changin'. But for the most part, this is just a fantastic study of a family just like any other, with its triumphs and tragedies. I wanted to know more about each character, and was sad when I turned the final page.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slow moving and boring, May 31, 2011
By 
Carol Gilbert "goform" (Flossmoor, IL United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
I am glad that I took this book out of the library and did not buy it. I found it to very disjointed and thought the characters were not very well developed as well as being quite stereotypical. The people in this book led very dull, inffectual lives and there was no hook to draw me in. People aged in this book, but didn't really change in any significant way. I kept waiting for progress, but it never came!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thompson Captures What's Going On, and It's Beautiful, and It's Real, June 6, 2012
By 
Stacy Helton (Chattanooga, TN) - See all my reviews
So who is Jean Thompson and why have I never discovered her before? THE YEAR WE LEFT HOME is a stunning, amazing, comforting novel that I read a positive review of last year and placed on my Amazon wish list and didn't think about it again. The used price dropped enough recently to snag a copy and I was astounded. Thompson's writing is a mixture of Anne Tyler and Stewart O'Nan, two of my favorites. THE YEAR WE LEFT HOME is about the extended Erickson family, a Norwegian Lutheran family in Iowa. The novel is divided into chapters that move chronologically in years from 1973 to 2003, with each chapter from the point-of-view of a different family member, beginning with 17-year-old Ryan. Each chapter is beautifully written and encompasses other family members; the joy of the novel is learning what peripherally happened to the other characters within that narrative (or not). The magnificence is that this never seems forced, despite the serialization of the narrative. The novel is not a laundry list of the culture during this time (something I usually enjoy) but instead often center on Updikian themes like infidelity, the death of the small towns and tenuous connection of family. The four Erickson children (Ryan, as well as Anita, Torrie and Bradley) live different lives with different tragedies, embarrassments and ennui. The setting is an important element of the play; Iowa in the latter days of the 20th century, as the country's farming community falls apart. The opening scene in a VFW wedding reception strikes just the right tone. Sometimes when I'm driving on the interstate in an unfamiliar part of the country and see these exits and wonder what is going on in the farmhouses, the trailer parks and the teacher's lounges. Life is being lived outside of my realm of Facebook friends. Thompson captures what's going on, and it's beautiful, and it's real.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read, June 16, 2011
This review is from: The Year We Left Home: A Novel (Hardcover)
I never would have searched for a book such as this. I won it actually for participating in something online.

I am however happy it came into my life.

I found it entertaining and extremely well written.

A wonderful story.

Thanks for the memories.
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The Year We Left Home: A Novel
The Year We Left Home: A Novel by Jean Thompson (Hardcover - May 3, 2011)
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