The Namesake by Steven Parlato
Merit Press, 256 pages
US Release Date: January 18, 2013
Source: Publisher, for review - thank you Leyane and Merit!
While he may be the smartest boy at St. Sebatian's Academy, Evan has no idea why the father he's named for committed suicide. A searching story of a boy's too-early coming of age
The Namesake begins when Evan is asked to "write about what he knows" for college essays, by teachers sure that such a gifted artist will get a full scholarship. What Evan knows is not as much as what he doesn't know, however. He doesn't know why his father chose to hang himself on Easter morning while he and his mother were at church, and what the secrets of a small town can tell him about his father . . . and himself. Hoping to finally uncover the truth, Evan and his best friend, Alexis, dig into the town's past only to discover it's dark roots . . . and that some secrets are best kept hidden.
-------------------summary provided by the Publisher
Sorrow is cumulative.
The Namesake was another one of those books that took me surprise - and I'm still in debates about if it was ultimately a good thing or not. I suppose I could have connected some of the dots underlying the summary, but I don't think I would be the only one not to put it together earlier.
I'm not going to say it outright, but the truth of what is going on...it was a tough subject to read about, simply because it's one of those things that you feel is never really real. It's on the news all the time (unfortunately), but that's all it is: news stories. They're so horrific and evil that your brain refuses to accept them as true, even though you know deep down they are. So to read about it was a bit...horrific, too. Right in the middle I started to wonder if I should really continue, but I'm glad I did.
Once I did figure out what happened to Evan's father (which was pretty early on), I actually became much more frustrated with Evan because he was so slow on the uptake. There were so many obvious moments after that, and I just wanted to shove Evan and tell him to get there faster. It was excruciating slogging through random dream sequences or weird hallucination-like daydreams just to get to the point, and I definitely skimmed some of those pages. Even though it's already a small page count, it felt too long for the plot. Though of course, do know that I read an ARC and I'm sure there are definite changes in the final version that more than likely alleviate this issue!
The story itself is rather gripping, especially once Evan discovers the journal and you're allowed to read the father's own words. The mystery is wrapped up fairly well, and though once it begins to take shape you immediately know, it's still pretty brilliant the way it's mapped out and the sequence of reveals. There was one little part to the storyline that I thought was a bit unnecessary, but it's thankfully a small portion - and the characters it brought about were so fantastic that I didn't mind it too much.
One of the best things about this novel were the secondary characters. Each of them were so clear and unique - especially Zio Joe and the Italian family - that I thoroughly enjoyed every time there were scenes with them. Alexis was a little over the top, but she balanced out Evan well and offered a great comic relief to very heavy issues. And even though I can't stand Father Fran...he's crafted well. Too well, because it makes me see red just to see his name again!
The tone of the novel is an interesting part for me - most of the time, I loved it. Evan's got this great defeatist humor that mixes really well with his curiosity and cynicism, and it paints a picture very well. But there are small moments where it didn't fit well with the content of the book, where it didn't quite fit with a scene or a feeling. And I know you can't shift tones in a book, but somehow I think a better balance could have been achieved. Still, a good 80% of the novel has a great take on the events and I found myself enjoying it.
I'm having a hard time wrapping up the review, mostly because I'm still a little lost how I feel about the whole book. There are certainly parts I really loved, ones that made it worthwhile to read this - I don't regret picking it up, and I do think there are a lot of appeals to it. But for me personally, there were so may tiny misses, too - and I can't ignore those, either.