The Catch by Alison Fairbrother (Fiction)

Writing: 5/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5

A humorous, well-written, millennial coming-of-age story (to be clear, the coming of age to “real” adulthood in your twenties, rather than the rocky road through puberty). Ellie is 24 when her father dies suddenly. As the eldest of his four children from three different wives, she has always felt she was his favorite, but when she is left an insulting object in his will while the “lucky baseball” she craved went to a complete stranger, she began trying to track down the truth about her father. In the meantime, she is a budding journalist trying to write something meaningful while employed at a D.C. media start-up focused solely on clickbait measures and is seeing a deeply nerdy (and deeply married) man who is (surprise) not always available when she needs him. Somehow this all comes together with a story on the local Osprey cam as a leading indicator of ecological disaster in a way that is both comical and deeply insightful. Very good writing.

I really did love the writing — so many good quotes!

“Exclamation points had become little signposts announcing, I mean well! and had become so normalized that in their absence I felt a deep sense of foreboding. But every now and then you found yourself up against someone who refused to give in to exclamation points, who typed what they meant with zero reassurances, making the rest of us look like overzealous clowns.” (My favorite quote as I am one of those clowns!)

“D.C. was like that. You were always one step away from a cockroach.”

“It was like my mother always said: ‘If you’d just lose some weight, you could enjoy your young body.’”

“It was true that I was proud of the life I’d started to make, getting on my bicycle in the morning, dismounting lightly at a glowing little start-up, then returning home to my ad hoc salon of housemates, whose drive and purpose and hopefulness about the world, I hoped, might spur me on too.”

“The earth had been diagnosed with end-stage cancer, and every morning I learned that diagnosis anew.”

“That was another thing I was learning — I had to read how much people could handle; I had to tuck in my sadness when too much of it showed. I picked the orange peel from my glass and sucked the bitter alcohol from its flesh.”

“If only Katherine hadn’t seen us on the stoop at that exact moment, with her kale body and her hornet’s nest judgement.”

“Talking to him was like getting tapped repeatedly on the shoulder by an octopus with one wet tentacle.”

“Stories could have such unsatisfying and unlikely outcomes. More and more, I felt we willingly built entire worlds on very little information. Like sandcastles, if you poked them anywhere, the whole structure would revert to its components. It was our nature to do that, to fill in the details and become convinced they were true and not our own fantasies and imaginations bumping up against someone else’s reality.”

“At points all over the earth, people were advancing toward each other and away from each other, and this was just one instance in the vast history of these of these moments. I thought that the collection of all such trajectories must make up the most complex atlas in existence.”

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 21st, 2022.

Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe (Fiction — Audio book)

Summer 1999 — the Robert Taylor Homes (aka the Projects) on State Street on the South Side of Chicago. 12-year old Felicia (Fefe) is happy jumping rope on the third floor porch with her three friends: Precious, the daughter of a pastor; Stacia, member of the notorious, gang-affiliated, Buchanan family; and newcomer Tanya, the ultra-timid, obviously neglected daughter of a crackhead on the 10th floor. Everything changes during this fateful summer: The Chicago Housing Authority is demolishing all of the Project buildings on State Street, and theirs is slated to go next; her brother, Meechee, is taken by the police in the middle of the night in a warrantless raid; random gunfire becomes more frequent; and Stacia begins to favor the family business over jumping rope.

Labeled a novel, the story reads like a memoir, and it would be easy to believe that much of the story comes from the author’s personal experience as she was raised in the Robert Taylor Homes in this time period. The writing is excellent (I have no quotes as I listened to it on audio), and the reader is absolutely excellent — perfect pacing, differentiated and consistent voices for the multiple characters, and beautifully timbre in her voice. Told in the first person from Fefe’s perspective, we follow her through that summer and then on through her life for the next twenty years, giving her an opportunity to revisit the turning point that summer was and to get closure on some of the events. It’s a gritty and truthful telling with added introspective commentary as Fefe comes of age in the midst of gangs, police crackdowns, drugs, single mothers on the one hand, and a strong community, loving family, and supportive clergy, teachers, and neighbors on the other. I love the advice she is given, the wide array of people from whom she gets it, and what she does with it. Fefe is a success story — she gets out of the Projects and finds her vocation in helping others — unlike some of the friends she had who do not have some of the same advantages offseting the meanness, cruelty, and unfairness of the environment.

This is a coming-of-age story, not a political treatise. Her conclusion near the very end is that “We are not the originator of our misfortunes — we are all the victims of it.” Her point: people do what they have to do to survive. I would have been a little happier with some ideas on what creates these misfortunes and how everyone — including those who live amidst it — could contribute to making it better.

Thank you to Harper Audio and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 14th, 2022.