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The Sweet Relief of Missing Children: A Novel Hardcover – February 28, 2011

3.3 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Braunstein won the 2007 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and was named as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35,” which recognizes five young fiction writers chosen by National Book Award winners and finalists. Her debut novel is an unsettling read that is also strangely compelling, though the author reserves all of her compassion for her characters, sparing none for her readers. It follows the meandering, intertwining stories of three young people who go missing. Twelve-year-old Leonora is snatched from a street corner and finds that her upbringing, which has taught her to be sweet and polite, works against her. Sixteen-year-old Paul runs away from his negligent mother and abusive stepfather only to end up drifting for years on end. Teenager Judith, looking for excitement, lands in a seedy hotel room covered in cigarette burns and sadly disabused of her adventurous spirit; even when Judith placidly settles into marriage and parenthood, her “dull, bright, busy” life has its own kind of horror. Through random encounters and elliptical dialogue, Braunstein locates the pain in these people’s lives and makes it shimmer. --Joanne Wilkinson


"Enthralling... Sweet Relief is that rare book: a page-turner in which the plot is secondary to the brilliant, visceral portrayal of its characters." --O, Oprah Magazine

"Braunstein paints a gorgeous portrait of a wide variety of characters, all fully realized...Highly recommended for readers of contemporary fiction." --Library Journal

"I have never encountered a book that treated its characters with such savage compassion... I felt morally inspired by this book." --Salvatore Scibona, author of The End

"A dazzling novel. Luminous and precise... the story rushes to an unexpected yet thrilling conclusion.  I love this book so much, I hated to reach the final page."--Malena Watrous, author of If You Follow Me

“Through random encounters and elliptical dialogue, Braunstein locates the pain in these people’s lives and makes it shimmer.” (Booklist)

“The reader becomes a sort of watcher peering into a variety of small-town kitchens and bedrooms, and looking hard into hearts that have been broken or shaken loose.” (Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of American Salvage)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 363 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (February 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393076598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393076592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,720,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In this discomforting debut book, every character - and there are many - is guilty of the crime of passivity. It starts with the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl, Leonora - a good girl, who does everything right, a cautious and obedient young lady who possesses "calm confidence, concern for the lower classes, a dimple in her right cheek."

Yet this is not a book about Leonora, who inhabits a small fraction of the 360+ pages. Rather, it's about all kinds of "missing" children - children who have grown up, those who have gone missing emotionally or physically, those who have been exploited or who have grown alien to themselves and their families. It is, at its core, a book about trying to find one's place in a careless world.

Sarah Braunstein uses an interlocking story format to introduce several characters to form a sort of kaleidoscopic of our own desperate and hopeless efforts to pursue and yet push away the things in life we want the most.

As readers, we meet them all: Paul (ironically renamed Pax, which stands for "peace") - a boy who has run away from an abusive stepfather and who experiences not a moment of peace, who "felt a desire to smash love into his body, to smash love into the world, to allow love to be the violent act he'd always suspected it was." We meet Judith (another irony - her name stands for "freedom") who is anything but free as she marries young, moves to exactly the kind of quiet "every town" she's wanted to escape, but in the end, cannot. We meet Sam, her young husband, an orphaned character who does everything right, but cannot break free to live larger than what appears to be his predestined fate.
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Format: Hardcover
With The Sweet Relief of Missing Children Sarah Braunstein concocts a deeply odd yet profoundly affecting novel that is tenuously centered around Leonora, a privileged young girl who goes missing in Manhattan. I use the term "tenuously centered" because the stories of the book's other characters swirl and eddy loosely around Leonora's fate; almost none of them actually know her and some of them don't even know about her.

The characters are all so specific and finely drawn that it was a pleasure getting to know each of them and their individual stories, even though, while reading it, I sometimes had difficulty keeping track of everyone and felt slightly confused over the general direction of the book as a whole. Aside from Leonora, who is a happy and kind little girl, the two other prominent characters are dreamy drifter Paul, who has escaped a life of privation with his neglectful mother and her abusive husband, and Judith, a rebellious teen runaway who matures into just another bored suburban housewife. In addition to these three, there are numerous others whose lives intersect and overlap, influencing one another and making decisions that impact the direction of their lives. Braunstein closely follows each character, illustrating the cause-and-effect relationship between where they start and where they end up.

Like Leonora, who makes one awful, momentary error in judgment that changes the course of the rest of her life, all these people make choices, big and small, that lead them down seemingly irreversible paths. So although most of the other characters are not directly impacted by Leonora's disappearance, her relationship to them becomes a symbolic one.
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Format: Hardcover
Braunstein inhabits her characters with an easy surety, from anxious parents to alienated daughters, a precocious son who runs from a negligent mother with porous emotional boundaries, men who stand idly by, helpless, as daughters flee into an unsafe world and bear the scars of their encounters. The first child to take form is Leonora, a missing twelve-year-old well-versed in the appropriate response to the advances of a stranger. But Leonora has vanished in New York City, her mother ever vigilant for the ringing phone, the knock on the door. There are rules for girls, most broken by the time they prove false, or worse, foolish: "She understood that you could be too curious, but you could never be too pretty." Boys operate differently, but the labyrinthine terrain of childhood remains equally treacherous.

In a series of interlocking narratives that bridge past and present, personalities take shape, girls with dreams who marry prematurely, give birth to daughters who cannot fathom mothers who were ever young. Thrown together in the throes of rebellion and a horror of repeating their parents' mistakes, serendipitous and beautifully rendered relationships define the pitfalls of innocence, "anything to lay claim to what you fear the most". One after another we meet these fragile children pushed too soon to adulthood, runaway Judith, homeless Paul, a religious woman making a lifetime's restitution for a choice she made in desperation, Paul's mother, Goldie, more concerned with her fleeting beauty than the son she burdens with boozy "truths".

The lives of individuals intersect, they marry, have children of their own, young men once irresistible, but now dully predictable and never, never dangerous, once-lovable daughters scorning affection, impossibly wise and impossibly wrong.
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