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Marlena: A Novel Hardcover – April 4, 2017
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From School Library Journal
When Catherine was a teenager, she moved to the small, economically depressed town of Silver Lake, MN, following her mom's divorce. Now in her 30s, Catherine is still haunted by her past. Even a good job and a great husband can't compensate for a pain that won't fade completely and a powerful drinking problem that arose as a result of her best friend's death by drowning. Catherine is consumed by the memory of a girl who made having nothing seem like everything. As chapters deftly alternate between the protagonist's adult life and her adolescence, readers encounter teenage Cat: angry at her dad and unappreciative of her mom's efforts, the 15-year-old is primed for reinvention. A bookish girl on partial scholarship at a private high school, Cat meets Marlena, a force of nature: blonde, sexy, and unapologetically brash and worldly. Cat is soon ditching school to hang out with her friend, who's looked down on by many: Marlena is the daughter of a menacing meth cook who is not above trading his daughter's sexual favors to a drug partner. Drinking, pills, smoking, sex—all the staples of Marlena's life, once glamorous to Cat, become routine as Marlena's sketchy friends and dangerous behavior affect both girls. This searing work from debut author Buntin adroitly captures the dark side of friendship and the turmoil of young adulthood. VERDICT Hand this unflinching tale to savvy teens starting to look beyond Ellen Hopkins or to readers who appreciate gritty fare, such as E.R. Frank's Dime.—Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Gwinnett County, GA
"At the center of Julie Buntin’s debut novel is the kind of coming-of-age friendship that goes beyond camaraderie, into a deeper bond that forges identity; it’s friendship as a creative act, a collaborative work of imagination. . .This generous, sensitive novel of true feeling. . . sweeps you up without too much explication, becoming both a painful exorcism and a devoted memorial to friends and selves who are gone." -The New York Times Book Review
"Excellent....a wild, gorgeous evocation...[Buntin’s] lyricism is precise and revelatory, capable of great beauty and, when called for, great ugliness. Marlena is a novel about youth―a time of splendor and squalor. Buntin make us see, hear and feel both." -The San Francisco Chronicle
"A vivid portrait of a friendship between two teen girls in a troubled community that captures the heartaches of adolescence...At every turn, Buntin’s prose flows with the easy, confident rhythms of an accomplished writer, and though there’s really no mystery in the narrative, it reads nearly as compulsively as a thriller...The tale of two friends, one who succeeds and one who fails, isn’t new―it’s the entire focus of Elena Ferrante’s wildly popular Neapolitan books. But it remains fascinating nonetheless, especially in Buntin’s capable hands." -The Boston Globe
"Julie Buntin’s standout debut novel, Marlena. . . cannily interweaves two different time frames to capture an electric friendship and its legacy. . . .Buntin is attuned to the way in which adolescent friends embolden and betray. . . .Cat is a keen observer of all the markers of upward mobility: in this case, a New York life complete with a literary job and a kind, stable husband who makes dinner. The novel’s most impressive passages concern the watermark that remains, visible in the light of too many after-work martinis, and in attempts at adult friendships."-Vogue, "Girls on the Verge"
"It's still so early in 2017 that calling something a best debut novel of the year is a dicey thing to try and do. But if the Lorrie Moore blurb on the front cover doesn't tip you off that Julie Buntin's Marlena is a book you should be paying attention to, the fact that the author created something that could easily be called the millennial Midwestern version of the celebrated Elena Ferrante Neapolitan Novels crossed with Robin Wasserman's great Girls on Fire, should do the trick."-Rolling Stone
"In this icy and accomplished first novel, the intoxicating friendship between an inexperienced loner and her manic, wild-child neighbor continues to exert an irresistible pull on our narrator decades later"-O, the Oprah Magazine
“Julie Buntin’s debut novel, Marlena.. . .joins a glut of recent novels that pair a retrospective female narrator with an extravagantly charismatic but troubled friend. . . .But Marlena,unlike the others, seems to be aware of the complicity of these kinds of stories in perpetuating the mystique of girls who go wrong. . . .Buntin vividly captur[es] the slow, blurry creep of intoxication. The value of novels like Marlena .. . is how insightfully they capture the complex intensity of girlhood that can’t see yet how exquisitely vulnerable it is.” -The Atlantic, "My Brilliant (Doomed) Friend"
"Riveting, assured debut novel ...Marlena is propulsive and gripping...Buntin excels at capturing the longing and intensity of being a teenager... Buntin. . .creat[es] characters so nuanced and true-to-life you’d swear you were remembering them yourself."-Bookforum
"A quiet, powerful look at addiction." -The New York Times, "3 Books Take a Deeper Look at the Opioid Epidemic"
"A gorgeous, knowing debut that will make you reflect on the people who continue to shape our lives long after we leave them behind."–Marie Claire
"[A] mesmerizing debut . . .Buntin weaves an indelible portrait of friendship."-Harper's Bazaar "14 Best new Books to Read in April"
"Marlena is a gorgeous portrayal of what it’s like to be a teenage girl, and an even more gorgeous exploration of the events that transform the woman a teenage girl grows into."-Newsweek
"Just when you think you’ve read every story there is to tell about teenage female friendships, along comes Julie Buntin with a story about two female teenagers so haunting that you can barely remember the names of those other books you’ve read...Stunning."-Roar
"Stunning debut...stellar first novel...Buntin captures the agony, ecstasy, and lasting impact of adolescent friendship"-Real Simple
"Brilliant...Marlena so perfectly captures the bottomless need and desire of teenage girls and the reckless abandon with which they lives their lives...If you've ever been a teenage girl who loved and lived a little too hard for your own good, Marlena will resonate on a cellular level." -NYLON
"Astonishing first novel...Provocatively honest." -Pif
"I tore through this stunning debut. . . .maddening, complicated, beautiful, essential. . . .Buntin beautifully captures that time in our lives, when our reliance on our friends feels as profound as our need for water or air." -NYLON, 50 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2017
"A novel that’s as invigorating and devastating as an intense teenage crush, Marlena is about the people we encounter in life ― no matter how briefly ― who leave a permanent mark. Julie Buntin’s stellar debut has the emotional sophistication of only the very best coming-of-age novels, so it’s no wonder it comes with a glowing blurb from Who Will Run the Frog Hospital author Lorrie Moore." -Vulture, 25 of the Most Exciting Book Releases for 2017
"Julie Buntin’s debut novel. . .will fill you with rich longing for the kind of faith and fascination friends once inspired. . .If you can swing it, I recommend meeting a good friend in a dark bar to discuss this book." -New York Magazine
"A buzzy debut that melds psychological suspense with pure literary fiction" -Huffington Post, 2017 Book Preview
"Riveting, heartrending"-BuzzFeed, "31 Incredible New Books You Need to Read This Spring"
"It’s rare that a literary novel gives me the feeling that Marlena did. . . .compelling, compulsory. . .[An] ice-clean story of two girls, one doomed, one in thrall, and what will happen to drag them both down into traps of their own making."-LitHub, "15 Books to Read This April"
"Sensitive and smart and arrestingly beautiful, debut novelist Buntin's tale of the friendship between two girls in the woods of Northern Michigan makes coming-of-age stories feel both urgent and new. . . .Buntin creates a world so subtle and nuanced and alive that it imprints like a memory. Devastating; as unforgettable as it is gorgeous."–Kirkus, starred review
“A keenly observed study of teenage character. . .poignant and unforgettable”
–Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[A] vivid debut. . . .Buntin’s prose is emotional and immediate, and the interior lives she draws of young women and obsessive best friends are Ferrante-esque.” –Booklist, starred review
“The gifted young writer Julie Buntin has written a novel of deep and exquisite intelligence, humor, and riveting sensitivity. A terrific debut.”–Lorrie Moore
“Julie Buntin captures that unique moment at the precipice of adulthood with emotional honesty and insight. She writes the kind of piercing, revelatory sentences you have to read to whomever is near, sentences you find yourself remembering years later.”–Jonathan Safran Foer
"Marlena is absolutely lacerating. The most accurate portrait I’ve read about angst, lust, boredom, and the blindness of youth. It isn’t merely a friendship chronicle, nor is it a profile of a doomed, beautiful girl. It’s the story of a haunting, about the ghosts that never release us and continue to define us. Julie Buntin’s command of her craft is so flawless you forget that it’s fiction. I binge-read Marlena - sick to my stomach, with equal parts fear and nostalgia- stunned that any of us made it out of our adolescence alive." –Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter
"The true magic of Julie Buntin is she writes stories that feel like your own. This gorgeous, assured debut captures the romance of young friendship, cutting deep with the finest touch."–Julia Pierpont, author of Among the Ten Thousand Things
"Marlena slayed me. Gorgeously written, with a sense of place so perfect I didn't even have to close my eyes to pretend I was there, this novel is rich and sensuous and beautifully conceived. Buntin writes about the all-consuming bond between teenage girls with urgency and suspense and despair. I loved every word."–Anton DiSclafani, bestselling author of The After Party and The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
"In Marlena, Julie Buntin revitalizes a classic story making it all her own with sensuous, vibrant prose and a narrator who feels deeply even as she feints certain painful truths about herself. In these pages I not only saw my own story, I came to understand it better. Many readers will too. This is a fierce and gorgeous debut."–Edan Lepucki, bestselling author of California
Top customer reviews
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My heart broke for Marlena. Life isn't fair and some of us get dealt a tougher hand than others. Some kids have all this potential and no one to nurture them so it just goes wasted. It's awful.
My heart also broke for Kat as I know how crippling survivor guilt can be and how it can keep you from being happy because you think you don't deserve to be. You always think 'I should have done more'.
There is joy in the book too, that special feeling you get when you've found that friend, the one who intrigues you and turns the world into different colors then it was before.
Even though you know Marlena dies from the beginning of the book, it still affects you because the author drew her so vividly and you feel like you know her and then all that bright promise is snuffed out.
Why was I so upset about a character in a book? Because I've known a Marlena or two in my life and they are a part of who I am. The author mentions her friend Lea in the acknowledgements in the back of the book and I think that's why she starts the book with the quote "I'll make my report as if I told a story for I was taught as a child that truth is a matter of the imagination."
This book is for all the Marlena's out there who were trapped and for all the Kat's who got away and carried them forward with them in their hearts.
After being uprooted to a dismal Michigan town in the middle of nowhere, Cat is immediately drawn to her next-door neighbor, Marlena, who is everything she's not: beautiful, mysterious, daring, experienced. The two girls quickly become inseparable, and Cat's days and nights become a blur of drinking and drugs—ecstasy, meth, Oxys.
Cat recalls their times together years later as a 34-year-old adult. We know early on that Marlena died shortly after turning 18, and that Cat had been racked with survivor's guilt ever since. She admits to being an unreliable narrator, acknowledging that her memories are tainted by nostalgia, making Marlena out to be grander than she was.
Of course, this is often how memory and nostalgia function—the good cements into your mind while the bad is relegated to the back. There's a lot that was uncomfortably familiar about this book for me, and I suspect many female readers might feel the same way. Buntin really nails the experience of being a teenage girl in a rural town, when alcohol and drugs are all you have to break up the overwhelming monotony and angst. The sense of place she establishes is just as vivid and essential as the characters.
My one main critique of this book is that it gets a little clunky going back and forth from teenage Cat to adult Cat—the latter interrupting the flow of the former. But Buntin's writing is the kind I was able to immerse myself in, so that I smelled what Cat and Marlena smelled, tasted what they tasted, felt what they felt.
Most recent customer reviews
book to enjoy.
Fifteen year old Cat, her mom and brother, move further up the mitten in Michigan to a very small rural town. Not much to do there.Read more
I have to write more words but what else is there to say