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Book Review: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (5/5)

27 Aug

Here is another reason I’m in a book club. I’d never heard of this book and never would have picked it up before my book club selected it for this month. The author is new to me and I’m so excited to have found him. I loved the story and the characters, not to mention the amazing writing.

Cover image via Goodreads

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Summary from Goodreads:

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were at the ready at Halderson’s Drug Store soda counter, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms.

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

This book knocked me off my feet a bit. I wasn’t ready to dive into it and enjoy it as much as I did. I had no expectations going in and, as is normal for me, I didn’t read the summary of it before I jumped in. I love finding books this way because I feel sometimes the summary on the back takes away a lot of the suspense depending on how soon major events happen. Knowing nothing and going in blind made this book all the better.

I thought the characters were true to life and I loved how different they all were and how they had their own struggles. Every character was well-rounded.

Jake was easily my favorite character. He was so devoted to his older brother that he was around and involved in much of the book. He was also a very moral character and obviously loved his family fiercely. He went through a major event in his life during the course of the book, much as Frank did. The loss that their family suffered change people and I felt Jake had a really realistic way of dealing with that trauma. I also enjoyed how he and Frank were able to hear things and tag along to many things in the town because they were good kids and how much that served them over the course of the summer.

I most closely related to Frank and Jake. I feel closer to childhood than adulthood despite my age and I could remember the feeling of being young and feeling like you’re old enough for something and finally being given the benefit of the doubt and trusted. I think the summer of the novel is the beginning of that for Frank and he feels like he’s an adult at the beginning of the summer. By the end of it, he’s gone through the emotional maturity to go along with it and is more of an adult than would have happened without the events of the summer.

William Kent Krueger
Image via Goodreads

I’m going to be a bit vague about this so as not to ruin it. I thought the events after the third death were the most interesting. The way Frank, Jake, and their family dealt with it were very raw and felt real to me. I’ve never gone through something like that but can understand how difficult it would be to process that kind of loss. It wasn’t a happy moment by any means, but well written and a time that jumped off the page and sucked me into the story.

Of the deaths in this book, it was really the third and fourth I felt were significant. The other three seemed a bit superfluous and seemed a bit like filler to me. It set a tone and a mood, but maybe one could have done that? Another three was a bit much.

Krueger was able to address a lot of themes in such a short book. The ideas of family, growing up, and faith all make their ways into Frank’s summer. His family seems fractured at times, especially with his mother. She sometimes feels like she settled in her marriage like she could have done better and married someone of a higher caliber. The children sometimes feel like they’re not as loved because of it. Frank and Jake are forced to grow up as the summer forces them to confront that there are bad things in the world after all and those bad things can happen to them. The struggle with faith that their mother has contrasts well against the rock-hard faith of Jake and their father.

Writer’s Takeaway: Krueger drew me in with the tension he built. I kept waiting for something bad to happen and I didn’t have to wait long but when I found out something worse was coming, I was hooked. I loved how he paced the story and how he kept it going over the whole novel. While there was a lot of external tension, the character-driven plot was amazing and I think I need to look into more Krueger books.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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