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Butter: A Novel (Switchgrass) Paperback – October 15, 2012
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It’s small-town Minnesota in the 1970s, and 11-year-old Iris’ family is collapsing. At first, life is stable: her father runs the town creamery, her mother works from home, and she has all the trappings befitting a relatively privileged child of the decade, including her very own Barbie Beauty Shop. But when her parents tell her she’s adopted, and then adopt a troubled older boy (following two miscarriages), her idyllic world cracks apart. Before long, Iris is shuffled between her separated parents and is forced to endure embarrassing gossip about her mother’s new boyfriends. As Iris navigates the delicate transition from girlhood to adolescence, she does so against the backdrop of a splintered 1970s America, as chains push out mom-and-pop stores (the fate of her father’s creamery), and divorce rates boom. The residents of her small town, however, aren’t comfortable with “complicated” families, and Iris suffers as a result of their collective judgment. Panning’s meditation on coming-of-age is so passionately wrought and richly detailed that, if readers didn’t know better, they might think this was the authentic stuff of memoir. --Ann Kelley
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The writing is beautiful and the main character drawn in loving detail. The author was perfectly inside the head of her preteen protagonist, as she struggles to come of age in a difficult, complicated family. Be forewarned: Parts of it are sad and wrenching though, not an easy read. Panning leaves us with bothersome questions about how anyone manages to grow up whole, but we root for this girl all the way through and for the adults in her life who offer her hope and comfort.