07 February 2011

Review: Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

On a foggy September afternoon two women who have never met leave their Cape Cod town, each escaping her life and each leaving her husband without warning. Three hours from home on a turnoff from the interstate, there is a fatal accident. Only one woman survives. In the aftermath, three people face an uncertain future.

Caroline Leavitt's Pictures of You (which I spotlighted a couple of weeks ago) examines the effects of a tragic accident from three viewpoints: a nine-year-old boy, Sam, who finds it impossible to believe that he will never see his mother again; the widowed Charlie, who can't understand what his wife, April, was doing so far from home; and Isabelle, who wonders if she will ever have the courage to leave the Cape and her husband, Luke, again.

The strength of this novel lies in the authenticity of the characters and the believability of their unique perspectives on their shared life-changing event. From the beginning, you are invested in the two families and their parallel, divergent, and intersecting lives. You want to know more about the impulsive, adventure-loving April and the steady, sensitive Isabelle. You hope Charlie finds a way to understand his late wife, and you're angry at Luke for how he behaved.

Most of all, though, your heart goes out to young Sam. He's sure he must have had something to do with the accident, but he's afraid to tell anyone what he remembers about that day. He is further isolated by his severe asthma, which makes it difficult for him to fit in at school. You want to reach out and tell Sam that he's not to blame and that he can trust the adults who love him.

Finally, Pictures of You, like real life, is not predictable. Characters do what they think is best for them, not necessarily what is best, and you wonder what you'd do in similar circumstances. The novel will make you think about fate, M√ľnchausen syndrome, parenting, relationships, and angels. Highly recommended for book clubs.

I would be remiss if I were not to point out that there were some slight editing errors. For example, near the beginning of the book Isabelle mentions going to a new high school when she moves to the Cape, but later she says she has a GED. These were minor points that I thought about only after I finished the novel; I was never jarred out of the story.

Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.

Published by Algonquin, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781565126312
YTD: 17
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Sandy Nawrot 2/7/11, 6:46 AM  

YOu make me chuckle, you editor you! You catch things that would go right over my head. With all the reviews of this book out there, this one sounds like one that would make a big impact. Even now, Red Hook Road still lingers in my head, months after I read it.

Dorte H 2/7/11, 7:12 AM  

Another temptation. No surprise though, I was already intrigued when you mentioned this book recently.

And I am ready to forgive minor errors - the other day I realized I had published a book with a white-hared woman in it - and my son had even pointed out that typo :(

Impatience is my middle name, but I´ll try to learn.

Anonymous,  2/7/11, 7:31 AM  

Another one for the wish-list, thanks!

bermudaonion 2/7/11, 7:44 AM  

One of my favorite things about Pictures of You was that it wasn't predictable!

Julie P. 2/7/11, 8:04 AM  

As you know, I just loved this book. The characters really resonated with me and the story was gripping too. The unpredictability was a huge plus!

Jenn's Bookshelves 2/7/11, 9:48 AM  

I'll be reading this one in the next few weeks; I'm waiting til after my travel is over. I can't bear to read stories about loss when I'm away from the boys.

Anonymous,  2/7/11, 10:23 AM  

I'm looking forward to this one, especially since I Adriana Trigiani mentioned in on her sight. Minor editing problems aside, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Barbara 2/7/11, 10:54 AM  

Intriguing idea for a novel. I'm definitely going to read this.

Zibilee 2/7/11, 11:37 AM  

Though I have seen this book mentioned, I didn't really know much about it before your review. I think it sounds fantastic, and I love authentically portrayed characters. I really want to read this one now!

Janet,  2/7/11, 12:28 PM  

Loved your review. The book was already on my TBR list but it just bumped up a little higher!

joemmama 2/7/11, 2:25 PM  

This sounds really intriguing. Another one for my long list...Thanks for the review!

Shelly B 2/7/11, 9:13 PM  

Once an editor, always an editor...good catch! I've had this one for a little while and wasn't sure about starting it...looks like my next read; thanks!

Kim 2/7/11, 11:42 PM  

And onto the wish list it goes! Great review--as always.

The Bumbles 2/9/11, 1:05 PM  

But couldn't she have attended a new high school and then dropped out before graduating - leading her to get her GED after the fact?

I love character rich stories - I'll add this one to the pile!

Beth F 2/9/11, 1:12 PM  

@Bumbles: yes -- a couple other people pointed out that possibility to me. And of course, it is completely reasonable. Regardless, I highly recommend the book.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick 2/10/11, 8:37 PM  

I am so absolutely intrigued by this story line. And I'm curious to know how it turns out - I've been looking for a contemporary fiction novel that's going to make a good impact on me, so I'll definitely need to seek this one out.

Alice 2/27/11, 4:44 AM  

I have just read the review of this book at Kathy's and got very interested in it. Now that I've read yours, it's a sealed deal. I like how you take on a different perspective to the review with focus on Sam.

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