Monday, September 9, 2013

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

I will start out this review by saying I had to read this book for school.  I've looked at it many times in my bookstore; I've even had a friend who read it and absolutely loved it.  

I did not.  As a matter of fact, it depressed the hell out of me.  My personal feelings have nothing to do with the fact that this is an extremely well written novel about the trials and tribulations of an Iowa small town family over a 30 year period.  I issues with reading about families.  Especially when all sorts of stuff happens to them in a not so funny way. Slap them in a comedy and I'm on board.  

My family issue just comes from the fact that I don't like to read family sagas.  I have a large family--lots of brothers and sisters, and we live in a soap opera, so I don't like to read about them.  "As the Gerth Turns" is what we call our lives.  Something is always happening to someone somewhere.  It is exhausting but the only life I know.  Happiness, tragedy, grief, love, triumph--all are mixed in our everyday lives.

That is how I felt reading this novel.  Jean Thompson's portrayal of the Erickson family in a small Iowa town is painfully vivid and stark.  The 1970's were the beginning of the end for many farmers, and this story definitely incorporates the decline of the family farm and how it affected small towns in the Midwest during the 1980's and beyond.  It left holes in lives, people, and places.  This novel is told through the eyes of the Erickson siblings: Anita, Torrie, and Ryan.  Blake makes a few appearances, but Ryan is the main narrator.  It all begins in January, 1973 at Anita's wedding reception.  Ryan is a teenager, and he's pretty restless.  Seeing his family through his eyes, and his desire to get out (also strongly felt by Torrie, with tragic consequences) into the world is something we can all identify with when we were teens and eager to leave the nest and explore.  Anything was better than staying at home--especially if it was a small Iowa town where nothing happens.  Ryan's path is college, but it is not easy and he soon finds himself living in Chicago on a completely different path.  

As their lives move on, Anita and Ryan find themselves examining their lives, the people that surround them, and what it means to be "home".  Can we ever leave where we came from?  Just how much does it shape who we are?  

Don't get me wrong--this is a great novel.  There is a lot to say, and Jean Thompson does an excellent job.  It is the All-Iowa Reads novel  for 2013 and has accumulated accolades and awards.  It's just not the kind of novel I can look at without the weight of family on my shoulders.  

Rating:  7/10 for excellent writing and plot.  Book club book, for sure!
Available in paperback, e-book, and audio


  1. Great review. Sounds like a heart-breaking yet rewarding story.

  2. See now, your review actually makes me like family novels more. I'm always thinking as I'm reading that all of these terrible things and screwed up people couldn't happen in one family. But maybe they can!