When an ARC of Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel found its way to my desk at work, I almost passed it on without reading it. When you work in children’s books, you get really picky about the general adult books you read because your reading time is a precious work-related commodity. For most people, the name Elizabeth Strout (and the fact that it is attached to the words “Pulitzer Prize winner”) is probably enough to make the book a priority, but I am not most readers.
The extra push that put The Burgess Boys in my “to read” pile? As usual for my reading choices it involved a local connection. Like Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge, The Burgess Boys is set in small-town Maine. Maine and Minnesota both have a large population of Somali refugees, and that sometimes results in some cultural misunderstandings–like the recent incident at Washburn High School in Minneapolis.
The incident that begins The Burgess Boys is only part of the story in the book. It is a family story about relationships and motivations. It was occasionally heavy handed in the don’t-assume-too-much-about-people theme, but not so much that it detracted from the intimate story of people trying to make sense of the world in which they live.
As a side note for those who know or work with teens, Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian addresses some of the same issues (Maine, Somali immigrants, tolerance) for a young adult audience. Also recommended.
Check out last month’s book pick: Just One Day by Gayle Forman
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