He’s Gone by Deb Caletti

9780345534354_p0_v1_s260x420Dani Keller wakes up one morning to find her husband, Ian, has disappeared.  If this sounds like a familiar theme (aka “Gone Girl”), Deb Caletti’s psychological thriller – He’s Gone – will surprise you with its gripping narrative that is different – and with a surprise ending that is satisfying.

As the tale unfolds, the lives of Dani Keller and her choices of men become the catalyst for the mystery of her second husband’s fate.  Having escaped her physically abusive first husband, Dani finds that her second husband is obsessed with control and not the soul mate and rescuer she had imagined.  When he mysteriously disappears, she may be grateful – but did she kill him?  With clever revelations of past and present lives, Caletti keeps you guessing until the end.

As a National Book Award finalist for her teen story,”Honey, Baby, Sweetheart,” a coming of age story of a teenage girl with a rebel boyfriend and a mother who is a librarian (that I now have on my to-read list), Caletti is well known for her young adult novels.  He’s Gone is her first adult novel.  A fellow reader alerted me to this book, and I read it in one sitting – just had to know whodunit – fun and engaging.

Books to Talk About

The book review section of the Sunday New York Times has a full page ad that caught my eye – from the publishers at Knopf Doublday – 9 books to read and discuss.  I’ve read and reviewed five of them, dismissed one, and waiting for the other three to make it to my library system.

Have you read any?

Waiting to Read:

Inside Out and Back Again

Every new year Mother visits
the I Ching Teller of Fate.
This year he predicts 
our lives will twist inside out…
The war is coming
closer to home.

A young girl escapes the war in Vietnam in Thanhha Lai’s National Book Award finalist Inside Out & Back Again.  Written in verse, Lai’s poetry follows the escape of a young Vietnamese girl, Hà, from her war-torn homeland to her new home in Alabama.

Lai offers poetic images of the conditions on the escape boat, the rescue by the Americans, the stopover in Guam – poignantly told by a little girl, who is at once angry, afraid, and hopeful as she waits with her family to be sponsored…

“We wait and wait,  but Mother says a possible widow, three boys, and a pouty girl make too huge a family by American standards.”

Hà struggles to acclimate to new surroundings in Alabama with a new language, reciting the rules as she learns verbs and endings – “so this is what dumb feels like” – nothing to the humiliation of being put on display at church by their sponsors.

“No one would believe me..but at times..I would choose..wartime in Saigon..over..peacetime in Alabama.”

Over a year, Hà and her mother become more assertive, determined to not just survive but to reclaim their lives.  Lai’s poetry gives a sharp, focused image to their struggle, as told by an angry fourth-grader, and clearly offers insight into the daily challenges of starting over.

Chime – the real National Book Award Finalist

After the National Book Award committee’s very public mistake – identifying the wrong book as one of their five finalists – I wanted to read the book that almost missed out for a clerical error.

Fran Billingsley’s Chime is a fantasy with a teenage witch as the heroine. When not spouting Old World jargon, Briony produces intuitive gems that will ring true with teens struggling to go past childhood, into a new world of being grown-up. Briony carries heavy baggage in her attractive frame: her mother died in childbirth, her twin sister is mentally disabled, her father is emotionally distant, and her stepmother blamed her for everything – pouring guilt and fear into Briony’s susceptible mind before mysteriously dying of arsenic poisoning.

When handsome and personable Eldric arrives from London, teen romance and first love seem inevitable. Eldric’s father is the engineer assigned to drain the swamp – where most of Briony’s otherworldly creatures live. Draining the swamp will also change the town, not a popular concept with the citizenry who would prefer not to participate in the Industrial Revolution.

If the power of anger and wishing evil can cause bad consequences, Briony may be a witch, as she believes – thanks to her stepmother’s cruel indoctrination. Billingsley cleverly creates a feisty character that could influence the action with or without supernatural powers, and she sprinkles the story with imaginative creatures that only Briony can see and communicate with.

Billingsley sets the action at a time when women with red hair are hanged for being witches and uses rural English period language that is difficult to follow at first. The plot sometimes get lost in the translation. But, the story has a universal appeal with a satisfying ending, and a main character worth knowing. Chime deserves it nomination.