I finished reading A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson this past week; and I have been having a hard time figuring out just what to say about it.
AROLS is the best book I've read this year. Not best YA book; the best book, period. So far, this makes 3 books on my Best Books of 2005 list.
I've been trying to figure out just how to share how good this book is without spoiling anything.
I'd like to do what I did with my Mom: hand it to you and say, read this next.
The Plot: Zoe is 17, a senior, and is fed up with being a caretaker for her alcoholic mother. Her family ignores her mother's problems, so the burden is entirely on Zoe's shoulders. Zoe has a dream of escape: renting a room in a house on Lorelei Street, where she can have her own space. Her own place. Be herself, instead of her mother's daughter. Is escape possible? Can Zoe be a student, a daughter, a sister, and be true to herself? How high is the price of freedom?
Who hasn't thought about running away and starting over? And this is what Zoe wants to do, pack her bags, move out of the house, move into a room of her own. But wherever you go, there you are. Can Zoe truly leave her mother and the obligations of love, blood and family?
The Good: Zoe, her mother, her grandmother, Opal (who owns the house with the room), Zoe's friends and teachers, are full characters. Pearson does an exceptional job of creating a living, breathing person with a handful of words. She also creates heartachingly flawed, human, realistic people. Zoe's tug-of-war with herself about her obligations towards her mother are understandable and believable, because her mother is more than just a selfish drunk.
All to often in fiction, both Young Adult and adult, there is the "evil parent", the one who has failed to be a good parent because of (fill in the blank: career, drugs, spouse, selfishness). The "bad parent" is one-note, to the point where I stop believing the story is "real" because seldom, in the real world, are people one-note; another problem with the "bad parent" character is that the parent is usually so over-the-top bad no one in their right mind would stick around, so the main character who does so looks less. I lose patience with the characters and the story itself.
Pearson avoids both these pitfalls beautifully. This is how "bad parents" need to be written: whole. Flawed. No excuses. Mama has problems, but there is more to Mama than her problems. Full characterization is one of the many reasons that while Zoe has problems in her life, this is not a "problem novel."
Another good point about this novel is that it is believably set in a working class environment. The struggle for money is real, and the impact of no money is real. Zoe lets you know how much is rent; how much for food; how much for school activities. Zoe is not playing at being a grown up.
There is much, much more I want to say, but I'm afraid of giving away too much. Let's just say that Zoe is faced with many choices in her desire to be free. AROLS is about choices, consequences, love and redemption. It's about hope and possibility. It's about the nature of love and betrayal.
Cynthia Leitich Smith has an interview with Mary E. Pearson over at cynsations. Pearson provides insight into both the book and the writing process.