Keep the Ends Loose
Molly D. Campbell (Twitter) (Facebook)
The Story Plant (March 3, 2015), Trade paper original (ISBN 1611882044 / 9781611882049)
Fiction (YA), 294 pages
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
The search is over for several of Molly D. Campbell’s characters—they have found their novel, and they’re in for a very eventful summer in Keep the Ends Loose.
Ohio teenager Mandy Heath is anxious about her upcoming freshman year of high school, but other than that, her life seems rather short on drama. Since she aspires to be a screenwriter, this feels like a problem—where is she supposed to find material? Mandy’s about to discover she needn’t worry about that; as it happens, her family abounds in drama, and there’s more to all of them than fifteen years in their company has ever hinted at.
Granted, Mandy was aware of her Aunt Iris’ brief, long-ago marriage to the traveling musician Frank Fletcher…but she had no idea that the marriage is technically not over yet, and she’s befuddled by her mother Winnie’s sudden, all-consuming interest in locating the man. Winnie insists that she just wants to help her sister move on; the rationale sounds a little weak, but Mandy, her brother Adam, and Mandy’s best friend Barley are roped-into helping Winnie with her plans. When they do find “Fletch,” the kids also find out that Winnie’s rationale sounded weak because it was rather far from the whole truth. Mandy and her family are about to spend the rest of the summer unraveling, and then reassembling, that truth.
I read and enjoyed Campbell’s self-published collection of sketches, Characters in Search of a Novel, and found similarities in tone and structure in the early chapters of Keep the Ends Loose. That made me a little concerned about how this was actually going to grow into a full-fledged novel; I noted extensive passages of physical description, and hoped they weren’t there at the expense of deeper character and plot development. However, as Campbell expands on Mandy’s own writing ambitions and increasingly frames the action with the screenplay Mandy envisions writing about it later, the use of “tell” over “show” begins to make more sense in context.
Keep the Ends Loose is classified as YA fiction, and my feeling is that it’s because of the tendency to assume that “teenage protagonist/narrator=YA novel.” This doesn’t feel YA to me, partly because so much of what happens in the story happens to, or is caused by, the adults in Mandy’s life, and partly because Mandy’s so interested in the adults in her life. Noting that, Campbell makes it interesting to see these adults through eyes of a perceptive, observant, and remarkably uncynical fifteen-year-old girl. Having said that, my feeling is that Keep the Ends Loose will appeal more to adults who read YA than to young-adult readers—and it does have genuine appeal. Light and comical in spots, and with genuine warmth throughout, this novel ultimately works because Molly D. Campbell creates some very engaging characters.
(Parts of this review were cross-posted at Amazon.com, at the author’s request. The author did not contribute to the review’s content, and all opinions are my own.)
Miranda Heath is a quirky fifteen-year-old with cinematic dreams and a safe, predictable family. That is until she decides to pull at the loose end that is the estranged husband her aunt never divorced. What seemed like the best way to allow her aunt to get on with her life sets off a series of events that threaten to turn Mandy’s world upside down. Suddenly, she’s embarking on adventurous road trips, becoming the center of an increasingly unstable household, meeting surprising strangers, and seeing everyone she knows in new ways. Sometimes loose ends just want to stay loose. But what happens if they want to unravel completely?
Warm, funny, and uniquely perceptive, Keep the Ends Loose is an irresistible novel filled with characters you might recognize – and will not forget.
Opening Lines (a Kindle screencap)