Friday, July 25, 2014

Home Leave: A Novel

Title:  Home Leave:  A Novel
Author:  Brittani Sonnenberg
Publication Information:  Grand Central Publishing. 2014. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1455548340 / 978-1455548347

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "You choose your friends and your boyfriends, your colleges, your curtains, your type of bread, your granola, your poison, your pants, your tattoo, your postcards at the museum shop. But not your losses."

The back cover of this book describes, "And what does it mean when home is everywhere and nowhere at the same times? With humor and heart, Brittani Sonnenbrg chases this wildly lovable family through the excitement and anguish of their adventures around the world."

The family is Chris, a man whose carrier takes him around the world; his wife Elise, who follows along; and their daughters Leah and Sophie, who have each other as the constant in every move.

According to the US Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual, "the purpose of home leave is to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis." It is a benefit offered to employees who work oversees - away from home.

Based on the description, I expected a book about family and about kids growing up as "third culture kids." Third culture kids (TCK or 3CK) are children who spend a bulk of their childhood outside of the native culture(s) of their parents. With today's global economy, more and more research is being done on the benefits and challenges of such a childhood. The term is also being used to now describe adults who grew up in such a family situation.

This topic and scenario is not completely what the book is about. Instead, the book is also about ghosts, literal and figurative. In the first couple of chapters, the reader learns about the background of Chris and Elise and the reasons that both have traveled far from their childhood home. About 30 pages into the book, the reader learns about the devastating loss this family suffers. These ghosts of the past become the crux of this book.

It's almost like two stories. This family has a very definite before and after - before the loss that almost destroys the family and after. The portions of the book dealing with the time before are about the expat experience and about living and adapting to new cultures - a journey through the world. The portions of the book dealing with the time after are about loss, grief, and the possibility of recovery - an emotional journey.

The story is told in an nonlinear fashion, with each chapter jumping to another time period and often another location. The first half of the book jumps back and forth in time. The remainder becomes a more chronological approach. I found myself constantly referring to the chapter title, which identifies the time and the place, to keep a handle on where I was in story. Sometimes confusing but eased by the chapter titles. A table of contents with the chapter headings would be most helpful.

The nonlinear approach, for me, also keeps the emotions of the book in a state of flux. It becomes difficult to vest into the characters' experiences because chapter to chapter, you are pulled to a different part of their life and a different perspective. This structure creates a somewhat detached feeling throughout the book.

My favorite part of the book is the perhaps the first chapter. It presents Elise's back story from her home in Vidalia, Mississippi. It is a sad and shocking story and explains her need to reinvent herself. What makes this chapter the most fascinating one of the book is that it is told from the perspective of her childhood home. Yes, the perspective of a house. It took me a couple of pages to figure that out. At that point, I went back and started reading it again. I wish the book had continued with this form of narration and lived up to the promise of that first chapter.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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