Friday, July 22, 2011

The Reason for Roses (review)

Title: The Reason for Roses
Author: Babs H. Deal
Publication Information: Doubleday, 1974
Genre: Adult Fiction

Plot: This is a melancholy look back by Spencer Howard at the last summer of her childhood in a small Alabama town, not long before WWII. Although Spencer, an orphan, is being brought up by her grandmother, her cousins and their parents converge on Bellefonte to spend summers together. It is unclear how old Spencer is in this book, probably about 15, with four attractive cousins about her age or several years older.

What I liked: Like the Betsy-Tacy books and Elswyth Thane novels I love so much, there are picnics and projects and secrets and squabbling and scavenger hunts.

What I disliked: I waited somewhat impatiently for something to happen (summer ended). Spencer implies that she, the normal one, survives because the memory of her grandmother's roses provides her with strength to deal with life's challenges, but I found it hard to understand why three attractive young women and two presumably attractive young men would have a hard time surviving, even with WWII in the horizon.

Sadly, the close-knit family relationships did not endure, and Spencer's children did not grow up knowing their cousins because the older members of the family that had kept it together passed away. I did not enjoy all the hints the author dropped about the sad outcomes for Spencer's cousins (which are eventually revealed but seemed melodramatic and unnecessary). While Spencer has a sense of humor, no one else appreciates it so the tone of the book is bittersweet, somewhat like the books set in England just prior to WWI (but without the charm of something like Downton Abbey). At the end of the book, she reflects on the family home in Bellefonte but does not appear regretful that it was eventually turned into apartments: "I do not go there often, and it does not make me sad...The house that belonged to us belongs only to the past, which is mine also." She may be able to subsist on her memories but I found her story very depressing rather than winsomely melancholy.

Coincidentally, I read a children's book by the author's husband about a year ago: A Long Way to Go, about three siblings who are abandoned by their parents at a motel. I found that gritty and convincing, and liked it much better.

Source: My friend Rowena recommended this as one of her favorite summer reads, and I was surprised I had never heard of it. I was able to request it from the library.

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