Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book review: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

I read Ordinary Grace for my Great Group Reads book club, and it was well-liked across the board (one member declared it her favorite book this year.) I did like it but it had some issues for me.

Frank is 13, living in a small town in Minnesota in 1961, and the son of a preacher. That summer starts with the accidental death of a mentally handicapped boy Frank's age, and the deaths keep coming, including one that hits close to home.

The voice and the sense of place were very powerful. Mr. Krueger has a knack for conveying the flatness of the midwest, and the people in this small town who are good and bad, striving, gossipy, prejudiced, and helpful. The story kept me reading too, to find out what happened. There were some red herrings along the way, but it isn't a traditional mystery. It's more of a novel with a mysterious element.

The issues I had were with Frank and his little brother Jake's ages seeming to fluctuate (sometimes they seemed wise beyond their years, other times I thought they were a lot younger than they're supposed to be.) I also had issue with how much of the plot revolved around eavesdropping, which is somewhat necessary for a book narrated by a child but about adult issues. Others in book club assured me that they had eavesdropped a lot as a child (I didn't) but I still don't like it as a convention. It seems convenient and passive. I thought the character of their older sister could have been more developed. And certain events were telegraphed so strongly that I saw them coming from a mile away. I hate books that don't use quotation marks. And for me, the biggest problem was that I was reading an advance copy, and the letter in the front of the book from the author gave away the biggest plot twist in the book (not even by hinting, but flat-out said it.) That's unforgivable. I was incredibly disappointed. When will publishers learn--if you're going to give away a spoiler, put it at the back where it can't hurt anyone. Luckily for you, you are not going to have that same problem.

Overall, I really did enjoy the book, particularly the atmosphere and I liked the resolution. It was not quite lyrical, but there is a poetry to the midwest which Mr. Krueger captured beautifully.

A friend who works at a bookstore passed along an advance copy.

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