Review of The People We Keep by Allison Larkin
Teenaged April has been dealt a difficult hand in life, and watching her struggle to make her way and connect with others in Allison Larkin's new novel alternately broke my heart and made it soar.
My friend Suzanne brought this upcoming book to my attention, and I was immediately hooked by its premise.
In Allison Larkin's new novel The People We Keep, April is struggling. She's failing out of school, working some shifts at a diner, and living in a nonfunctioning motorhome that her father won in a poker game. She lives in a town where she's never felt like she belongs, within a family where she doesn't feel that she matters.
Her parents have allowed her to flounder, growing up without any sense of security and without providing any foundation for her life--and are largely not even present, forcing young April to fend for herself. (The level of neglect made me furious.)
A borrowed car and an open mic night open up new possibilities, while a fight with her dad sharpens her focus on leaving. April flees, heading out on the road with few expectations, aside from changing the trajectory of her life.
Along the way, she meets various people and must decide whether to open her heart to them or to keep herself at a distance; she considers what she truly wants from her life; and she writes songs to cope with and interpret the world around her.
The songwriting feels at first as though it will loom large in the story, but ultimately it isn't nearly as weighty an element as April's constant fight to connect with and to to trust others--and to learn to trust herself. Not everyone she meets is worthy of her time or her faith, but she does intersect with imperfect, lovely gems of human beings, and these scenes broke my heart in the best way.
Larkin makes small moments, including difficult ones, feel visceral and immediate. April has been dealt a difficult hand, and she's had to get tough because of her hardscrabble life, but Larkin doesn't revel in this as though it's heroic--April is desperate to feel safe enough to let down her guard. She's an appealing character who demonstrates immense strength but is secretly vulnerable.
From early in the story I found myself yearning for April to settle in and allow herself to just be instead of running. I wanted some constancy for her life, even if it might feel too clean or easy for Larkin's story arc. The ending offers some resolutions (but I did wonder at the omission of what felt like a key character who might have been an integral and heartwarming part of April's life).
I received a prepublication digital copy of this title courtesy of Gallery Books and NetGalley.
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Larkin has also written several books under the name Allie Larkin.
If you like stories about young protagonists facing challenges and realizing their fortitude, you might also like the standout books on the Greedy Reading List Six Fantastic Stand-Alone Young Adult Books.
For more books about songwriting and making music, check out Six Rockin' Stories about Bands and Music.