A few months ago, I received an ARC of Once, In Lourdes from Random House Books through Netgalley. In exchange for the book I will be writing an unbiased review.
- More information and an excerpt here
- Author: Sharon Solwitz
- Print Length: 320 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
- Publication Date: May 30, 2017
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
About Sharon Solwitz: Solwitz is an English professor at Purdue. She has previously published two books: Blood and Milk and Bloody Mary.
A poignant novel of teenage friendship set during a two-week span in the turbulent summer of 1968, in which four friends make a pact that will change their lives forever.
Four high school friends stand on the brink of adulthood—and on the high ledge above the sea at the local park in Lourdes, Michigan, they call the Haight—and make a pact. For the next two weeks, they will live for each other and for each day. And at the end of the two weeks, they will stand once again on the bluff and jump, sacrificing themselves on the altar of their friendship. Loyal Kate, beautiful Vera, witty C.J., and steady Saint—in a two-week span, their lives will change beyond their expectations, and what they gain and lose will determine whether they enter adulthood or hold fast to their pledge. Once, in Lourdes is a haunting and moving novel of the power of teenage bonds, the story of four characters who will win your heart and transport you back to your own high school years.
At times uncomfortable, at times heartbreaking, and always vivid, Once, In Lourdes is an entirely unique story of sixties friendship and rebellion. Readers may be quick to compare the novel to Emma Cline’s “The Girls”, yet I found the sixties vibe and friendships described in Once, In Lourdes to be much more realistic. The plot mainly centers around a suicide pact made between four friends: Kay, Vera, CJ, and Saint. Rejected by their families and the world, the foursome finds a true and fierce love in their friendship. Vera, who holds a dark secret, and is tired of being pushed around by her cop father, is the creator of “the pledge”. Vera’s character toes the line between reality and the cliche of the “broken” teen girl: angry, sex-crazed, confused, and rebellious. However, her secrets and ambiguities make her more unique.
Kay, our narrator, is an outsider in every aspect of her life but the group. She’s insecure about her overweight body, and vows to lose weight before fulfilling the conditions of the pledge. Kay is the pure-hearted voice of reason in the group. She is full of love and forgiveness for her friends and the freedom of the sixties. Though her family life is tumultuous, she finds a deeper connection with her friends.
Next, there’s CJ. His constant joking hides inner insecurities about his sexuality, and his father’s expectations. CJ holds a deep and obsessive love for Saint, though his feelings are unrequited.
Saint is a bit of a mystery. Compared to a “greek god”, all three other members of the friendship are in love with his good looks and deep thoughts. However, he only has eyes for Vera, with whom he enters a tumultuous and passionate relationship.
Once, In Lourdes consistently holds your attention by making you wait to see if the friends will eventually complete the pledge or decide to live. What actually happens at the end, however, is completely unpredictable.
What I liked most: The writing style accurately captured the lives of teenagers both in the sixties and throughout the ages. The descriptions were beautiful and the characters were interesting, and for the most part, likable. I loved and empathized with Kay, the narrator, and eagerly followed her story. Lastly, I thought the novel ended perfectly with a bittersweet reflection and moral lesson.
What I didn’t like: This book includes scenes featuring riots, political unrest and police shootings that actually occurred in Chicago. While I thought they were well-written, there wasn’t a clear connection between them and the main plot. They did not necessarily tie in to the story of the four friends. Also, many of the characters remain an unsolved mystery. There is a lot left to be said about their pasts, their personalities, and their lives. It was almost as if the things that happened to them were used to replace their personalities.
Do I recommend this book? Yes. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys stories set in the sixties, and stories about passionate relationships between both friends and lovers. However, if you are uncomfortable reading about death. suicide, and abuse, please stay away from this book.
Overall Rating: ★★★☆