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Thicker Than Blood Paperback – October 23, 2015
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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It is rare that a contemporary novel offers the heart-shattering wisdom of THICKER THAN BLOOD. In its portrayals of the always-shifting "American identity," it offers readers insight into how we have perceived the "American dream" during the past three generations. Jan English Leary's novel masterfully unfolds the stories of unforgettable characters at the moments when they are making and losing and returning to and abandoning all their first assumptions of home and of family. --Kevin McIlvoy, author of 57 Octaves Below Middle C
In Thicker Than Blood, Jan English Leary tackles big issues: the mother-daughter bond, race, adoption, and immigration, to name a few. Readers with an interest in any of these issues will be absorbed by this well-crafted and insightful novel. But if her canvas is broad, Leary's focus on her two main characters, Andrea and her daughter, Pearl, is tight and discerning. With great empathy and insight, Leary portrays a mother-daughter relationship that is both unconventional and universal. I was left thinking of Pearl and Andrea, and wishing them well, long after I turned the final page. --Katherine Shonk, author of The Red Passport and Happy Now?
In her debut novel, Jan English Leary sensitively explores themes of parenthood, adoption, and race, never shying away from the uncomfortable realities that make up the business of living. Through multiple perspectives, we meet characters who, though wildly different, share an aching desire to find their place in the world and connect with others. Their efforts to do so and the challenges they face form the basis of this compelling story. Leary has a deft hand; her clear, intuitive prose offers insight into the disappointments, mystery, and beauty underlying human love. --Janice Deal, author of The Decline of Pigeons
About the Author
Jan English Leary grew up in the Midwest and Central New York State. During her junior year at Smith College, she studied in Paris, an experience which fostered the love of travel that runs through her fiction. She received an M.A. in French Literature at Brown. While teaching French and raising her children, she completed an MFA in Creative Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. For the remainder of her career she taught fiction writing at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago and at Northwestern University. Her short fiction has appeared in Pleiades, The Literary Review, The Minnesota Review, Carve Magazine, and Long Story, Short Literary Journal and other publications. She has received three Illinois Arts Council Awards. She lives in Chicago with her husband, John, an artist and former teacher. Thicker Than Blood is her first novel.
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The reader does. You not only know who they are to each other, but how they came to be in that coffee shop and the worlds they have known. You know the love they share and the traumas they have endured, you have read a book you will not forget. You have been the only confident on a secret that changes a woman’s life, one she’ll never tell her daughters. You have followed a girl through the streets of Paris, unable to warn her that the character she’s trusting, against her better judgment, can’t be trusted. Even before that, you have been unable to warn her that the friends she trusts in high school are involved in a cruel trick. You know it’s a cruel trick, but you don’t know how it will end and you turn pages experiencing the bewildering pain of the prank. Earlier om the novel, you have an aunt lash out at the one child who is trying to make a thanksgiving dinner the success the aunt had in mind.
Jan English Leary succeeds in developing the complexity of adopting a child and the challenge Andrea, a single mother endures. Leary creates characters who support one another, sometimes let those most important to them down, and ditch true allies when their needed them most—once because their own lives are wrenched by cancer.
You might guess when you pick up a book called Thicker Than Blood, that family ties will be explored, but you couldn’t know how complex those ties can be in this beautifully woven novel of a mother and her child.
The book mainly follows Andrea and her daughter Pearl from the time Andrea adopts Pearl through Pearl growing into young adulthood. Issues of race, discrimination, and acceptance also come to the forefront of the novel in record time as Andrea struggles with the difficulties of raising an African American daughter in Chicago, an already racially charged environment. In tandem with the above themes, those of expectation, self-worth and self-confidence also play a central role in the thematic make up of Thicker Than Blood.
At first the reader accompanies Andrea as she struggles to be a confident and successful single mother, but the novel quickly hops to other character’s heads giving differing perspectives on the difficult situations at hand. We see what life is like from Pearl’s point of view, from Andrea’s boyfriend Mike’s point of view, from Andrea’s mother Nancy’s point of view, as well as from other minor characters. Though this sort of head hopping can often jar a novel and its reader out of the flow of the story, Leary does it in such a thorough and uncomplicated way that there are never any questions as to whose head we are in, or why we are there. Every character’s perspective adds weight and value to the central themes of the novel in ways that would be otherwise inaccessible.
We come to understand what the issues of family, race and self-confidence mean for Andrea, Pearl and Nancy as we discover secrets about them that even they don’t know about one another. Gaining access to the deepest darkest parts of their pasts, the reader is able to sympathize and interact with these characters in a way that the characters themselves are not able to do with one another. In turn, the characters are strengthened and we become more invested in their imperfect and disjointed lives.
A beautiful and moving piece that explores questions relevant to every human being, Thicker Than Blood is a momentous novel. Leary has done a brilliant job of gathering universal themes and holding them up for the reader to observe and judge for herself.
This was a Goodreads win for me. The bonds between women are like a rubber band, they stretch, give and take but manage to hold pretty true to its original shape. This is the way I saw the bond of Andrea and Pearl. Andrea sharing her love with her adopted daughter Pearl, Pearl accepting it but as time goes on she pushes Andrea away as a lot of teenagers do. Joined in that rubber band is Andrea's mother, Nancy, with secrets of her own that she has never shared with anyone. Joanne, Andrea's "perfect" sister, who can't admit her own daughter struggles with anorexia. Freya, Andrea's co-worker, tries helping Andrea but is struggling with her own issues that she has chosen not to share. The bond each of these women has with Andrea stretches but the question is will it be able to maintain its shape or will it snap under the pressure of life's daily struggles? Nicely done Ms. Leary.