Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Review: Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer
Title: Nowhere But Home
Author: Liza Palmer
Rating: 4 Stars
Nowhere But Home is the quintessential comfort read and I devoured it in one sitting on this rainy afternoon. Liza Palmer is an author I've had my eye on for awhile but I never seem to have caught hold of her books. As such, when I saw both this and Seeing Me Naked on the shelves of my library earlier this morning, I grabbed them. And I'm so glad I did.
Palmer writes of family, hope, and love. Nowhere But Home is a distinctly character-driven novel, following Queenie Wake as she returns to her small town of North Star that she has been so desperately trying to escape for years. Now, after a series of firings have left her hopeless, she rejoins her older sister, Merry Carole, in celebrating the fact that Cal, Queenie's nephew, is the star quarterback of their football team. The Wake's are the lowest of the low in North Star, forever living under the legacy of their mother, JB Wake, and her whoring days. As such, Queenie and her sister are treated, for the most part, without much respect, and Cal's rising to the ranks of the town elite is a huge thing for the sisters. It may just be, after so many years, their stepping stone to happiness.
In many ways, Nowhere But Home seems like a classic Southern novel. White trash girl returns to her roots, discovers that her life is so much more than she made it out to be, and finds a way to live in the town she thought she hated. Very "Sweet Home Alabama". And yet, Palmer manages to make this novel one infused with warmth, with depth, and with emotion. From the beginning itself, she draws you into Queenie's life, making you feel for her situation despite the fact that it so very out-there and different. It is Palmer's writing and her three-dimensional characters that make this novel simply stand out. Although Queenie may be facing the watching eyes of her town and living under the rotten reputation of her no-good mother, she is still going through other issues too; everything from being jobless to landing at a crossroads in her life, not knowing what to do or what path to take. Stay in North Star? Or run away from her past and troubles yet again? With an honest narration and unflinchingly relate-able voice, Queenie's story becomes your own and her journey of growth, self-discovery, and ultimate love is truly one to behold.
Furthermore, Palmer's latest is a story of family. Merry Carole and Queenie share a tight bond as sisters, one forged by their upbringing, and as Queenie stays on at North Star, their bond only becomes stronger. Not only is it one infused with understanding, but it is a realistic portrayal of sisterhood; not always easy, but always comforting nevertheless. In addition to Queenie and Merry Carole, though, all the women in this book are so very strong. Our classic high school cheerleader-esque women who have grown up and continued to be bitches are revealed to have unexpected layers of depth and the tight-knit group of friends that Queenie forms in her town are a force of love and comfort to be reckoned with. I laughed, nodded, and teared up with these women, so much so that I feel as if I know them intimately myself. It's all just so very real, as is the developing bonds that Queenie forms with her nephew, Cal. I was very pleasantly surprised by the fact that this novel is not merely Queenie's, it is a novel of this town and these people who, despite being at the bottom wrung of the social ladder, have not yet given up.
A novel of this nature, though, wouldn't be complete without a love story. Queenie bumps into her childhood crush, Everett Coburn, on the first day she returns and from that moment on, their tumultuous and passionate past comes crashing back. Everett and Queenie have history - a lot of it - and it is painful. Although Everett and Queenie have only a few interactions throughout the novel, the ones they do have are filled with unspoken words, longing, and carry so much weight. In fact, the bulk of their love story lies in their past and in moving on and finding a way to be together despite it. Everett doesn't need to charm us (his name does a pretty good job, actually), only because Queenie is already in love with him and, as with every emotion in this novel, we feel it so acutely. I love these types of love stories - subtle, yet deep, focusing on the true emotions that inspire long-lasting relationships. Truly, it seems that in every aspect Palmer simply shines. I adored this story of small town Texas and of big city dreams; of passions found and of passions lost; of closing the door to the past and looking ahead to the future. With such beautiful writing, realistic characters, and emotional words, there is no doubt that I will be returning to North Star - and Palmer - very soon.