Flora, by Gail Godwin (2013)

Genre: Historical
Interest Level: Adult
FloraOne of the burdens we carry as humans is the ability to look back and trace the origins and paths of consequences – in academe, we call it history. For most of us, it comes in the form of “if only I had known” and it’s usually tinged with regret. This is Helen Anstruther’s story, written many decades later. It’s June 1945, and ten-year-old Helen is facing a summer of isolation and tedium with the barely tolerable Flora, her 22-year-old guardian. The world is at war and her father, a high school principal during the school year, is in Tennessee working on a secret project. Helen recently lost her grandmother, the only mother she remembers after her real mother (Flora’s cousin) died some eight years ago. The summer looms long and wearisome. Helen’s friend Anna has moved away, and pal Brian has come down with polio, resulting in a protective quarantine for Flora and Helen. Helen is precocious, moody, and a rather bratty and self-indulgent child. The adult Helen is remarkably adept at recalling her younger self’s thoughts, emotions, thoughts and motivations, and the character springs to life. There are some interesting themes here, of loss, pride, self-reflection and self-rebuke, though a deliciously creepy supernatural storyline is left hanging. Helen’s reflections so many years later don’t interfere with her gentle slow reveal of the inevitability of that summer, and how it changed her life and others. That events culminate on the day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima is no coincidence, and what may seem like a painfully obvious metaphor is played out artfully in Godwin’s hands. For fans of Richard Russo, John Irving and perhaps Maeve Binchy.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16034245-flora

About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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