"It was terribly hot the summer Mr. Robertson left town." For Amy Goodrow and her mother, Isabelle, the heat of that summer is the least of their problems. Other citizens in the New England mill town of Shirley Falls are bothered by the heat and by "other things too: Further up the river crops weren't right--pole beans were small, shriveled on the vine, carrots stopped growing when they were no bigger than the fingers of a child; and two UFOs had apparently been sighted in the north of the state." But Amy and Isabelle have a more private misery: a seemingly unbridgeable chasm has opened between this once-close mother and daughter and nothing will ever be the same again. For Amy has fallen in love with her high-school math teacher, Mr. Robertson, who has gone way beyond the bounds of propriety by encouraging the crush. When Isabelle finds out, she is horrified to realize that her anger at him is dwarfed by her rage at her own daughter for "enjoying the sexual pleasures of a man while she herself had not."
Mother-daughter novels can, by virtue of their subject matter, often seem claustrophobic, a little overwrought; Elizabeth Strout masterfully avoids this problem by placing Amy and Isabelle in the larger context of the community they inhabit. Though her main focus is on the Goodrow women, Strout often detours into the lives and thoughts of her many secondary characters: Isabelle's coworkers Dottie Brown and Fat Bev; Amy's best friend, Stacy Burrows; Stacy's ex-boyfriend, Paul Bellows; and women from Isabelle's church such as Peg Dunlap and Barbara Rawley. She also introduces a chilling frisson of menace with the unsolved abduction of a 12-year-old girl and a mysterious obscene phone-caller. Like the best of Alice Hoffman, Amy and Isabelle offers up a moving yet resolutely unsentimental portrait of people coming to terms with their lives, finding unsuspected nobility in themselves and unexpected kindness in others along the way. Elizabeth Strout has written a gem of a novel. --Alix Wilber
From Library Journal
YA-Isabelle Goodrow thought her move to the small mill town of Shirley Falls would be temporary-just until she decided in which direction she wanted her life to head. Now her daughter, Amy, has fallen in love with her high school math teacher, and he takes advantage of the teen's infatuation. When the relationship is discovered, Isabelle is furious with her daughter but also a little jealous that Amy has found sexual fulfillment while she has not. As mother and daughter try to rebuild the trust and closeness they once shared, the private secrets of many citizens of Shirley Falls are revealed. YAs will relate to the complexities of mother/daughter relationships and to having a crush on a teacher. This is a beautifully written novel with characters so real that readers will miss them at the book's resolute ending. Their interactions are riveting.Katherine Fitch, Rachel Carson Middle School, Herndon, VA
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