Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Trying Youth

Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe


Sue Bowl has been through a lot more in life than most 17-year-olds have. Her mother, Buddleia, committed suicide, and not long after that, her father took up with another woman. Buddleia's sister, Aunt Coral, was still mourning the loss of their father when Buddleia took her life. Looking for comfort, and knowing Sue needed some comforting herself, Coral invites her to Egham to spend her gap year in her mother's ancestral home. Of course, Sue can't leave Titford fast enough, mostly because she's sure that Green Place will be the perfect setting to start writing her novel. While she's there, perhaps she can find some answers about her mother, with a dash of romance on the side.

This is a novel with heap-loads of charm, partially due to it taking place in the late 1980s in a semi-rural village outside London. Told mostly told from Sue's point of view, as diary entries, these are interspersed with excerpts from her Aunt Coral's "Commonplace Books." A Commonplace Book is sort of a combination diary and scrapbook, in which girls not only put down their thoughts and experiences, but also where they collected things like articles, recipes, quotes and other items of interest. Coral's been keeping hers since she was only seven, and at the age of 65, she has five volumes. This lovely variation on a well-used mechanic not only brings Coral all the more to life, it also serves as a beautifully rendered option to classic flashbacks.

Crowe also brings together a cast of captivating characters. Sue is young, naïve and funny while also being endearingly quirky. She misuses certain words, sometimes lets her imagination run overly wild and the snippets from her period romance story are adorably over-the-top and adolescent to the extreme. All this is in contrast with Sue's beautifully written diary entries, which borders on the poetic, as well as her take-charge ability to invent creative ways to help her practically bankrupt Aunt from losing her crumbling family home. Sue also shows a level of maturity that is far beyond her years, especially when she's investigating her mother's life and death. Even so, she isn't more overly mature for anyone who lived through the tragedy of losing her mother in such a premature and emotionally charged way. Put this together with Aunt Coral's eccentricities, shopping addiction (among other things) and her fierce devotion to her niece, make these two into one powerful force. These two are set firmly in the middle of the dramas and lives of a slew of minor characters, which only adds to the fun.

If there is anything to criticize here, it would be the feeling that the late 80s era isn't wholly appropriate for this story. I believe a teenager of the 80s would be more in touch with the outside world than Sue appears to be. While a dilapidated manse like Green Place could probably be somewhat cut off from the outside world even in the 80s, the residents all seem to be more than unusually locally insular. We never hear of anyone reading a national newspaper, or even listening to the radio. I was a teenager in the 70s, albeit in America, and although I didn't often read newspapers back then, I do recall that when I wasn't watching (far too much) TV, I either had the radio on or was playing some kind of music, all the time. Of course, I might be wrong about life in the UK, but the extreme lack of this external stimulation and connection to the world for this era still felt a bit odd and out of character to me.

Finally, despite the bit of mystery and intrigue tossed in, this is essentially a humorous piece of fiction, which seems perfect for what they're calling the "new adult" genre these days. For this reason, a nice, neat ending with little to no loose ends is par for the course. Overall, Crowe has given us one fun romp of a read that has enough twists and interesting nooks and crannies to suck in her readers, from start to finish. Crowe gives us characters we can have emotional connections with and a spritely writing style to pull it all together. Therefore, one can only praise Crowe for a truly enjoyable first effort, and I look forward to seeing what she gives us next. Taking into account my one problem with this book, I am warmly recommending it as a great choice for summer reading, with a strong four out of five stars. 



"Campari for Breakfast" by Sara Crowe released April 10, 2014 and published by Doubleday (a division of Random House Books), is available from Amazon, iTunes UK (iBook or audiobook), the Book Depository (free worldwide delivery) and new or used from Alibris. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an uncorrected proof copy for review via Curious Book Fans. This is a revised version of my Curious Book Fans and Dooyoo review (under my username TheChocolateLady), which also appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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