June Book Club: THE LOCAL NEWS by Miriam Gershow

EDIWTB was lucky to be chosen as one stop of the TLC Blog Tour for Miriam Gershow’s debut novel, The Local News, which is also the June EDIWTB book club selection. The tour is kicking off here on this blog today, and will be hosted by many other great book bloggers later this summer, including Lisa of Books on the Brain and Stephanie’s Written Word. Click here for the full schedule.

Local-news The Local News is about Lydia Pasternak, a 16-year old high school student whose older brother Danny disappeared at the start of his senior year. While her parents sleepwalk through their grief, oblivious to their daughter, Lydia tries to come to terms with the disappearance of a brother about whom she was deepy ambivalent. Although the two were once close, Danny’s jock-like, often brutish behavior contrasted with Lydia’s brainy, antisocial personality, and he was a rather negative, menacing presence in lher ife as she entered high school. His disappearance causes shifts in Lydia’s status – for lack of a better word – at school, as she turns into an object of attention and often-unwanted sympathy from those who knew her brother (but who had ignored her in the past).

I really, really enjoyed this book. Although it is told rather simply from Lydia’s perspective, I think it’s a complicated book. There’s a lot going on – the mystery of what happened to Danny, the effect of his disappearance on his family, Lydia’s search for identity in a household in which she is practically invisible, the question of whether one is obligated to love their family members. Gershow’s explorations of the ways in which public and private grief intersect – who is truly allowed to mourn the loss of this boy? who really knew him? – and her meticulous analyses of the politics of high schools and small communities were very compelling. She is an excellent writer. She is incredibly observant and eloquent in describing mannerisms and emotions, and she developed her characters beautifully.

While I wanted to learn what happened to Danny, of course, this isn’t really a mystery, nor is it a grisly tale. It’s a sad story, to be sure, but there are many universal themes raised in the book that make it more of a coming-of-age book than anything else. The postscript of the book takes place 12 years after Danny’s disappearance, at Lydia’s high school reunion, and provides some interesting perspective on the main events and characters in the book. I found myself reading this section very closely, absorbing every detail with great interest as I learned what had happened to Lydia in the intervening years.

I was simply blown away at times by Gershow’s writing talent, rereading phrases and passages that were beautifully expressive and also dead-on accurate. I am very much looking forward to Gershow’s future books.

Gershow has agreed to answer questions about the book in a later post, and will also be guest-blogging on EDIWTB later this week. So please feel free to include any questions for Gershow in your comments below, so that she can address them later. (My questions are: 1) I found the character of Bayard to be a bit underdeveloped, compared to the others in the book. What do you consider his role to be, and why couldn’t it have been played by David Nelson? Was his indifference his most important feature?  2) I’d love to hear about how you were inspired to write this book. Is there a real-life story that got the plot going in your mind?).

Looking forward to the discussion!

11 Comments

  • June 15, 2009 - 8:41 am | Permalink

    I had hoped to have this read by today, but it didn’t happen. 🙁 I’ve taken a couple trips and our son’s home, so my reading’s really taken a hit.

  • June 15, 2009 - 9:25 am | Permalink

    Great review! I have to say though, I had a harder time getting through the book…I’ll explain in my review next month.

  • Kelly C
    June 15, 2009 - 11:52 am | Permalink

    I loved this book. I thought Gershow did an excellent job of bringing us into Lydia’s head. Adolescence is painful even in ordinary circumstances, and Lydia’s grappling with how to handle all the attention in the midst and aftermath of Danny’s disappearance is conflicted and believable, as is the other high school students’ behavior towards her. Danny was such a jerk to her–part of the tragedy of this story is that he didn’t have the chance to grow up and possibly grow back to her someday. Lydia’s mother seems to be rather pathetic, and that made me so sad. It made me think of how I would handle things if a tragedy like this happened to me. Does grief do this to mothers of lost children, make them these weepy fragile machines who try to focus only on the search and not see the effect it has on their other children? This is what happened in Stewart O’Nan’s book of a very similar story line, Songs for the Missing, too.

  • June 15, 2009 - 1:40 pm | Permalink

    GLad you liked the book, Gayle! I’m still reading it so I skimmed your review but will be back when I finish. I really appreciate all you put in to reading and reviewing the book and offering it up to your book club as part of the tour!!

  • June 15, 2009 - 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Great review Gayle. The MMBC read The Local News a few weeks ago. Feel free to share the author Q&A and discussion if you are interested.
    Here are the links:
    http://manicmommiesbookclub.blogspot.com/2009/05/miriam-gershow-answers-our-questions.html
    http://manicmommiesbookclub.blogspot.com/2009/05/local-new-discussion-begins-today.html

  • Kori
    June 15, 2009 - 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I had a hard time getting into this book, particularly because of the Lydia’s character. However I feel that Gershow did not make Lydia likable intentionally, so I can appreciate that aspect of character development. I liked the fact that Lydia was not your run of the mill, stereotypical idea of a teenager, and reacted honestly to the absence of her brother. I just had a hard time connecting to any of the characters and feeling any sympathy towards them.

  • Amy Weiswasser
    June 15, 2009 - 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Once I started this book…I could not put it down. I loved it. Lydia was so real, as was the palpable sadness. I really (REALLY) wanted a different ending (maybe a kiss with David in the car, or to find out what happened with Danny…bring him back even) but it wasn’t tied neatly. Such is life. Heartbreaking and brilliant writing. Thanks for sharing this author with me.

  • Chel
    June 16, 2009 - 8:36 pm | Permalink

    I agree that we got a big insight into Lydia’s character. It was so easy to understand how she was feeling. Great!

  • June 16, 2009 - 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Lydia, to me, was so real. Having children in that age range, I know that there are kids very much like her. And her reactions when Danny disappears were very believable to me. When she, essentially, all but disappeared in her own home but had the chance to be recognized by the other kids, it felt very real that she would take that chance even though she was never comfortable with it. I did think the last third of the book dragged a little but I know it was the best part for a lot of people.

  • Miriam
    June 18, 2009 - 10:44 am | Permalink

    I agree, I did not like Lydia and had trouble liking this book. I couldn’t get into the story. It was just not my favorite.

  • June 24, 2009 - 2:20 am | Permalink

    Hi Gayle, I’m back! Just posted my review today so came back to read yours. Excellent review- you said it all so much better than I did. I agree the writing was brilliant. I too read the end closely- the last section was exceptionally deep and real. I loved how going home helped Lydia find her love for her brother again. Loved it.

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