Published July 2010 by Random House
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours
Finny Short feels out of place in her own family. Her dad is always quoting "great men" and her brother, Sylvan, falls right in with him. Her mom is vastly more concerned about appearances and manners, it seems, than she is about her children. Finny, 14-years-old and defiant, seems to rub her parents the wrong way at every turn. When Finny meets Earl Henckel and his father, a narcoleptic piano teacher, she finally feels like she's found a place where she's comfortable. But when she and Earl are caught kissing, Finny's parents ship her off toe boarding school where she meets the one-of-a-kind Poplan (not Miss, not Mrs. and no first name if you please) and her roommate, Judith Turngate, who immediately pulls Finny into her orbit.
Over twenty years these people will move in and out of Finny's life as she comes of age, learns the highs and lows of love and deals with loss.
"Finny felt sick herself, like no one would want to touch her or be near her. Loss always did this to you, pushed you in a corner where no one wanted to go."
Although the novel might be considered sweeping in light of its span of years and geography, it never losses a feeling of intimacy. One reviewer says that Kramon fills the books with characters worthy of Dickens and I'd have to agree. From the narcoleptic Menalcus Henckel, to the screeching headmistress to the sneezing morticians, there is no shortage of odd characters in Finny's life. Fortunately, unlike Dickens, Kramon doesn't need 500 plus pages to tell Finny's story yet he manages to fully flesh out all of the major characters and even make New York City and Paris feel like integral characters.
"Every little thing thrilled here: the language, the beautiful women, the sour odor of the man holding the pole next to her; the little crank on the metro door you had to turn to get the door to pop open when the train stopped."Kramon has split the book into three sections: "Growing Up," "Reunions and New Friends," and "From Here On Out." Each section deals with a particular part of Finny's life, youth, college years, and adult life, hitting on the high points of each period and ending each section with a brief chapter that brings the reader up to date on other events that pass before the next time period. Those ending pieces did feel a bit jarring to me--here we were on this lovely slow trip and then suddenly we were accelerating at breakneck speed. While there is plenty going on in the book (a con man, a pickpocket in Paris, death), the book is much more character-driven that plot-driven. Finny is a character that most of us can probably relate to, at least in some part of our lives--the once strong young girl who finds herself disappearing when in the presence of those she's chosen to surround herself with and then fighting to find herself all over again.
One of my favorite parts was when Poplan came to visit Finny during a break from school. Finny didn't really want Poplan to meet her family so she had Poplan visit her at the Henckels. As a gift, Poplan had brought a durian fruit. Have you ever heard of durian fruit? They are rumored to be one of the ugliest and nastiest smelling foods on the planet. Earl and Finny can't stand the smell or taste of the fruit but Poplan and Menalcus eat the entire fruit. Just as some of the characters found the fruit unpalatable while others enjoyed it very much, I felt like these four characters were much like the durian fruit. Some people would just not "get" them while others would form lifelong bonds.
Thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, view the full list of tour stops at TLC Book Tours.
"Finny" if Kramon's debut novel. To learn more about Justin Kramon, visit his website.