Just as that luscious lemon tree gracing the cover of Robin Antalek’s debut novel, The Summer We Fell Apart, requires nurturing, careful tending, and a deep root system, so too does a family tree. Without a solid trunk, both trees’ branches will grow but will they mature and remain forever attached?
Whether or not the author considered the lemon/family tree symbolism — in addition to the symbolism that appears in the book — is unknown. However, without question, the following family home movies were created to serve as an introduction to the novel of the Haas family.
The germ of Robin’s book idea came from her desire to tell the story of a large family, complete with the two younger siblings who leaned on and acted as parents to each other. As for the older sister and brother…well their twisted relationship almost mirrored that of their parents’. Sound confusing? It’s quite believable given that abandonment and neglect are strong themes as is the search for love in all its many forms. There is also the idea of forgiveness, which ultimately leads back to all members of the Haas family, even their mother and father.
To better understand, here’s the synopsis:
Every family is crazy in their own special way, and the Haas family is no exception. The Summer We Fell Apart is the story of four siblings: Amy, George, Kate, and Finn as they careen into adulthood, trying to make peace with their past, and with each other. As the children of a once brilliant playwright and a struggling actress, the Haas siblings were raised in a chaotic environment, abandoned into a shadowy adult world made up of equal parts glamour and neglect. When their father dies, they must depend on their intense but fragile bond to remember what it means to be family despite years of anger and hurt. From Amy’s adolescent yearnings for a “normal” life to George’s search for love and Kate’s struggle to not always be perfect, to the gritty details of Finn’s addictive and destructive behavior, the Haas children come to learn that this family — no matter how ragged and flawed — provides all the hope they need.
Of course there is also News and Praise for the insightful look into complexities of human nature and its needs. For the characters found Robin and demanded their voices to be heard, their own perspectives to be told. In fact this debut novelist admits, “…sometimes the conversations I heard in my head were audible — so audible that I had to drop whatever I was doing at the time to write.”
Indeed the genuine honesty of Amy, George, Kate, and Finn make them so true-to-life that I asked Robin how she managed that?
She replied: “How can I answer your question about getting them so true? Only to say that the voices I heard for each character were so real — at times it was like I was taking dictation. Also – in this book — I went where it made me squirm in my seat. I opened closed doors. I wrote what I felt regardless of the inner critic. I tried to honor the characters of my creation as real living breathing human beings. It’s not all pretty. As a matter of fact it can get stomach turning nasty. But I couldn’t change it if I tried.”
And by relating some of those truths she’s received hate mail regarding sexual preferences. Nevertheless the author says: “Whatever, the complaint — I know that SUMMER and its characters have touched a nerve, readers are vested in their futures — and to me — that means I’ve done my job as a writer.”
To provide a complete picture of the family from every perspective, The Summer We Fell Apart was divided into sections which almost, yet don’t quite, overlap. The first to be heard from — and the only one written in first person — is 17-year old Amy as Robin explains:
“I wrote the character of Amy in first person because as the youngest, she is very “‘me’” centered. It is simply the characteristic of the teenager that the world revolves around them — and first person really allowed Amy to grow from a teenager when the book opens to a late twenty-something. Amy will always be the baby. I tried all of the characters in first (as I also wrote Amy in 3rd) but in the end it felt like too much noise to have everyone as first. Their personalities didn’t dictate that in your face storytelling as Amy’s did — and given their problems and neurosis — it’s probably for the better.”
What’s even better is being able to Read an excerpt of Amy’s story.
While the video of family home movies reveals a partial background for The Summer We Fell Apart, the actual novel almost reads like a script from a “well done” TV reality series. Robin Antalek’s words flow with passionate thoughts and feelings. Amy, George, Kate. Finn and their mother talk while the reader listens…captivated. With a breathtaking attention to detail, the author also shows the most intimate of personal behavior as if she had filmed the scenes. To read this novel is to feel a bit voyeuristic, yet it’s impossible to turn away because the author has succeeded in making you care.
In her guest post, Guest Robin Antalek on Raising (Writing) Good Characters, she notes:
“Because of my process, or maybe in spite of, who knows, readers identify strongly with these fictional siblings. And two of the questions I always get from readers whether it’s a book club visit or via mail is: who is your favorite? And, are they all okay?”
Yes they are THAT real and this debut novelist has given us all a wonderful opportunity to get to know, understand, and spend time with them in their world. Although The Summer We Fell Apart is filled with personal trials and past failures, it is also based on hope — that love forever binds to offer strength as well as direction. If you’re looking for a memorable summer read, Robin Antalek has written it for you…enjoy!
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Robin Antalek’s The Summer We Fell Apart in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to possibly claim your book.