Book Talk: *The Local News*, by Miriam Gershow

Disclosure: I purchased this book for my personal reading. *Purchasing links in this review are through my Amazon Associates account, and I will net a small referral fee for their use.

The Local News: A Novel by Miriam Gershow

The Local News: A Novel
Miriam Gershow
Spiegel & Grau (2010), Paperback (ISBN 9780385527620 / 0385527624)
Fiction, 378 pages

Opening Lines
: “After my brother went missing, my parents let me use their car whenever I wanted, even though I only had a learner’s permit. They didn’t enforce my curfew. I didn’t have to ask to be excused from the dinner table. The dinner table, in fact, had all but disappeared, covered with posters of Danny, a box of the yellow ribbons that our whole neighborhood had tied around trees and mailboxes and car antennas, and piles of the letters we’d gotten from people praying for Danny’s safe return or who thought they saw him hitchhiking along a highway a couple states away.”

Book Description: Even a decade later, the memories of the year Lydia Pasternak turned sixteen continue to haunt her. As a teenager, Lydia lived in her older brother’s shadow. While Danny’s athletic skills and good looks established his place with the popular set at school, Lydia’s smarts relegated her to the sidelines, where she rolled her eyes at her brother and his meathead friends and suffered his casual cruelty with resigned bewilderment. Though a part of her secretly wished for a return of the easy friendship she and Danny shared as children, another part of her wished Danny would just vanish. And then, one night, he did.

In the year following Danny Pasternak’s disappearance, his parents go off the rails, his town buzzes with self-indulgent mourning, and his little sister Lydia finds herself thrust into unwanted celebrity, forced to negotiate her ambivalent—often grudging—grief for a brother she did not particularly like. Suddenly embraced by Danny’s old crowd, forgotten by her parents, and drawn into the missing person investigation by her family’s intriguing private eye, Lydia both blossoms and struggles to find herself during Danny’s absence. But when a trail of clues leads to a shocking outcome in her brother’s case, the teenaged Lydia and the adult she will become are irrevocably changed, even now as she reluctantly prepares to return to her hometown.

Comments: Sibling relationships can change dramatically when kids reach their teens, and it’s happened to Danny and Lydia Pasternak. Danny morphed into a popular jock, one of the kids who can’t be bothered with brainiac outsiders like his younger sister Lydia. Actually, other than her friend David Nelson, a brainiac outsider himself, most of the kids at Franklin High School can’t be bothered with Lydia, and she’s accepted that. But when Danny goes missing, suddenly everyone in town wants to be involved with the Pasternaks somehow, and Lydia doesn’t know what to make of the attention that comes with being The Local News.

Danny Pasternak is the character that sets Miriam Gershow’s story in motion, but it’s told through Lydia’s perspective, and in Lydia, Gershow has a distinctive and memorable narrator. Lydia has spent enough time on the fringes of suburban high-school life that when she’s suddenly brought into the middle of it – sought out by the people who hovered around her lost brother – part of her remains outside it, observing and dissecting the dynamics of keg parties and aimless hanging out even as she takes part in the drinking and the confused, confusing social maneuvering. Lydia’s own feelings about her brother’s disappearance are just as confused and confusing, as she is strangely drawn toward the private detective investigating it at the same time she and her parents seem to draw further apart from each other.

Gershow has crafted a resonant and thoughtful exploration of grief – its public rituals and often unpredictable private expression, the ambivalence and conflict that sometimes accompany it – that’s an involving, suspenseful page-turner at the same time. Some of the suspense comes directly from the mystery of Danny’s disappearance, but for me, a great deal came from my engagement with Lydia and how she experienced the effects of it. I related to her sense of displacement, worried about her misdirected efforts to do something, and hoped she’d find her way through the confusion. While most of the novel is actually told in flashback, Lydia’s voice and behavior are realistically adolescent and convincingly portrayed; however, I never had the feeling that this was anything other than a novel for adults. A novel like The Local News brings me back to my occasional ponderings of young-adult literature, because if “a teenage protagonist” is the primary criteria for classifying fiction as YA, this book would fit in there. However, I really don’t think that’s what it’s meant to be, and I’d like to keep this one for the grown-ups.

It’s impressive to realize that this is Miriam Gershow’s first novel, and I look forward to reading what she does next.

Rating: 4/5

This book counts for the Read Your Own Books Challenge (9/20)

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