This novel made me cry on public transportation twice and miss my bus stop once—it was that absorbing and heart-rending. Unlike several of the main characters and the author, I have no particular love for Pearl Jam, but the references to the band weren’t crucial to appreciating the story. Perhaps they’d add another dimension for another fan?
The real magic, which anyone should be able to enjoy, is how wonderfully developed the main characters are and the way the story unfolds, with real tensions and conflicts emerging just as they do in real life, not because anyone’s evil or necessarily does anything really wrong, but because people have understandable fears and insecurities and make mistakes. Also, sometimes they have to deal with incredibly hard things. I admit, a few of the minor characters did seem just a bit two-dimensional (especially a mother-in-law type who’s almost too awful to be believed), but in some ways that just served to highlight how nuanced and appealing and fully fleshed-out the main characters were.
I realized as I was reading it how few other novels I’ve read that really center on working-class people. The kind of people who’ve had experiences in the foster care system, had to negotiate sub-optimal living situations and imperfect means of getting to work, people who have to scramble to come up with the cash for unexpected expenses. That gave it a refreshingly down-to-earth perspective you don’t often get from mass-market books and movies.
It’s also a real page-turner. I had to stop myself from racing through it and exercise some real discipline not to stay up way too late reading it on multiple nights. Especially recommended for fans of gripping literary realism, high drama, Pearl Jam, and/or Michigan.