Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: Emily Giffin's Where We Belong

I recently finished Emily Giffin's latest novel, Where We Belong,  and found it so intriguing, I could not put it down! I absolutely adore this author.  I have read all of her books, and I am a big fan. She is so creative, insightful, and articulate.  Furthermore, she has such a keen understanding of human nature and its psychology, emotions, and relationships.  Likewise, she often weaves a subtle thread of societal satire throughout her work, touching on relevant issues including marriage, parenthood, modern motherhood in terms of suburban stay-at-home versus urban career, consumerism, materialism, as well as socioeconomic and cultural divides.

Incidentally, I found this novel particularly interesting, as there are TONS of references for which I have personal connections.  For example, one of the main characters (Kirby) grows up in my hometown of St. Louis, on Eichelberger Street, where my grandparents/parents used to own a rental property.  It is clear Giffin did her thorough research for this novel.  Her culture descriptions of the St. Louis locations, neighborhoods, high schools, even ice cream shops (Ted Drews), and other references are very authentic!

Additionally, the other main character (Marian) grows up going to football games, and is destined to attend University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (my husband's alma mater, and therefore the destination for various fall football weekends of our own).  Coincidentally, my St. Louis high school field hockey team (Villa Duchesne) traveled to Chicago to play against New Trier High School, which happens to be the alma mater of main character Marian, and setting for a return visit in the novel.  Finally, when Marian and Kirby go to Lincoln Park to meet Conrad, his apartment is located on Armitage, the same street I lived on in Chicago after college....It was as if someone I grew up with could have written this novel! Naturally, it was fun to read with so many familiar references.

In terms of her story lines and plot material, they are always incredibly familiar, down to earth, and real.  When I read her novels, and imagine myself in the situations, scenarios, and relationships that she develops, her thought process mirrors exactly what I would be thinking!  Although her work has perhaps been included in the "chick lit" or young adult category, her perspective, writing, and insight are more brilliant and layered than the typically shallow, predictable, and cliched themes found in your average chick lit/beach-read.

Author Emily Giffin with her latest work, Where We Belong

Some critical praise of her novels:

Giffin's book is instantly relatable - few don't wonder how their lives would be different if they had turned left rather than right at life's big forks. Her writing is realistic and entertaining. There are unexpected plot twists and measured jabs at materialism and Southern societal norms...[and] Giffin's funny, honest voice lends credence to this modern riff on the old adage that the grass appears greener on the other side of the fence.
--The Charlotte Observer

Giffin's books...are funny, sensitive, and truthful depictions of female friendships and the complexities of marriage and motherhood.
--Atlanta Peach

Page-turning, heartbreakingly honest...Instead of falling back on easy chick-lit cliches, Giffin deftly depicts the hopeful hearts behind an unsympathetic situation.
--Entertainment Weekly

A thrill to read.
The Washington Post

Giffin punctures suburban trophy mothers and private school privilege, rising above the often-shallow chick fray with a gimlet-eyed skepticism for the traps modern women fall into.
--The Atlantan

Giffin's plotting and prose is so engaging that she quickly becomes a fun, friendly presence in your reading life.
--The Chicago Sun-Times

Giffin's books are fast-moving, emotionally absorbing stories about female friendships, marriage, and childbirth.
--Chicago Tribune

Giffin does a great job of character development and witty repartee.
--The Seattle Times

Smartly written. The dialogue is real...Emily Giffin knows what she's doing.
--The Winston-Salem Journal

Sprightly...dead-on dialogue, real-life complexity, and genuine warmth.
--Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Giffin displays her trademark ability to capture the complexities of human emotions while telling a rip-roaring tale.
--Washington Post

Giffin uses her great wit and gift of storytelling to weave a tale that's nuanced, empathetic and, at times, heartbreaking.
--Associated Press

Giffin's introspective and moving love story is an ode to those who take the road less traveled.
--The Atlantan

Offers multiple and complex perspectives on the crazy experience that is parenting.
--Daily Candy

Giffin's talent lies in making her characters believable and relatable, and readers will be enthralled by this layered, absorbing novel.

A modern-day Jane Austen.
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hilarious and thoughtfully written.
The Seattle Times

Sharply observed and beautifully etched.
The Newark Star-Ledger

Giffin is a dependably down-to-earth storyteller.
--The New York Times

One of the sharpest writers out there. Profound, humorous, and reveals layers of a woman’s deepest desires.
The Arizona Republic

Giffin skillfully explores the secret workings of a woman’s heart and the often painful consequences of one’s actions.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Giffin’s talent lies in taking relatable situations and injecting enough wit and suspense to make them feel fresh.

Smart, believable, and authentic …Captures friendships and love and their attendant complexities.
San Francisco Chronicle

Giffin’s writing is true, smart, and heartfelt.
Entertainment Weekly

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