Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Finny by Justin Kramon

Finny by Justin Kramon
368 pages
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 to 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 than 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.


  1. I think this sounds spectacular and I can't wait to read it. Thanks for this review!

  2. I have been seeing this book around a bit, it sounds so interesting! Great job on the post today!

  3. This sounds good, I might have to find this book.

  4. I've read good reviews elsewhere on this. I love your line "Fortunately, unlike Dickens, Kramon doesn't need 500 plus pages to tell Finny's story..."

  5. Love this post! It really was a great book, and I had such a good time reading it. As you mentioned, Kramon really has an eye for characterization and he really excels at populating the book with some great people. I loved the durian fruit scene as well, it was hilarious! Awesome review on this one!

  6. Thank you so much for this review, Lisa. It was great to read your thoughts on the characters, the structure, and the language in the book. You really got a lot into this review, and I appreciate how thorough you were!

    Constance Reader, thanks for your interest in the book! I'd love to hear what you think of it when you read it. Anyone can feel free to email me through my website.

    Lisa, great to hear from you. Thanks so much.

  7. This really is an excellent review. You hit upon all the things I want to know about a book when I'm considering reading it. Thanks Lisa.

  8. I snagged a copy of this from Jill (Fizzy Thoughts). It looks really good. I like books with young protagonists.

  9. Ooh I love what you had to say about the durian fruit - how true! This really is a unique book with odd characters, quite like that fruit. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it - thanks for being a part of the tour!

  10. I'm laughing about the durian fruit...I had forgotten all about that scene! And that's a great comparison between the characters and the fruit...it's so true.

  11. I love quirky and this sounds right up my alley!! This is the second review that I've read and both of your thoughts have made me want to read it!

  12. Bibliophile, thanks so much for your interest.

    Mari, thanks also!

    Rhapsodyinbooks, I'm also glad I was able to do this in well under 500 pages!

    Heather, I'm glad the durian scene was fun for you, too. It's nice that so many people responded to the characters in the book. I spend a lot of time with these imaginary people, so it's great when others enjoy their company as well.

    Teri, I'm happy that the review was able to catch so much of the book.

    Ti, I hope you enjoy the book!

    Heather, thanks so much! Quirky characters are definitely a lot of what makes life interesting (at least for me).

    softdrink, nice to see you again, and I hope it wasn't too traumatic to live through the durian scene again in this review.

    Staci, thanks very much for your interest!

  13. I enjoyed this book more than I expected to. I loved the oddity of the characters. I actually liked the interludes for the way they were written. I don't know.. I thought they were told well, contrary to a dragged out narration or a skip (where the kid has suddenly become the adult, like Five years later, she went to...).