I wanted to like this; it was the first invitation I’ve received via my blog to review a new, unknown (and indie!) author’s work. But it took me at least until 3/4ths the way through before the pay-off of dealing with characters who embody all that annoys me about the current crop of 20-somethings came my way. Top that with a bunch of missed editing opportunities (despite crediting four editors at the outset), and the passive voice and typos made it very difficult for me to finish this to honor my commitment.
All that said, though, they pay-off did eventually come. On page 143, Sarah said something that spoke to a part of myself I face each time I return to the town where I graduated high school:
“I’m not like this at home. I’m like this whole other person who belongs somewhere, who makes sense and actually has something to say. And then I come here, and this whole other person takes over. This insipid loser who just wants to be anywhere else in the world. I come here and I’m supposed to be all sweet and damaged because that’s what’s expected of me. I’m here, but not here. It’s like I could kind of forget about it back then, and I try to now, but something always happens to remind me that I don’t belong here. … Isn’t that ridiculous? It’s like the person I was in high school is trapped here, and there’s no place for anyone else.”
In her press materials, Ms. Larter says:
“There are no last names or town names. I didn’t forget to put them in. I left them out because I hope that Coffee at Little Angels will be the kind of novel that absolutely anyone can pick up and feel like they understand it. I hope that you will pick it up and feel like it could be about you.”
This could be true, but it is definitely written from the South African perspective: There were a few times her references to the sequence of schooling went over my head and I lost the train of the tale. And, strangely, some of her most poignant scenes and dialogue dealt not with the Phillip’s death, but with the township’s segregation, mostly ignored by the people in the no-name town in which the story is set.
Given that the whole story takes place over the course over a Thursday to Sunday span, the primary sense of character development comes through memories shared as the group reconnects during the funeral. Finding their internal footing is as fraught as it aught to be, and figuring out how to mourn appropriately as difficult as it is at any age. Their decision to honor the death of their friend, then, by reconfiguring their relationships in the present conveys as both logical and honest.
So while I had significant doubts about the book even at the halfway point, I can recommend it for those who like stories along the lines of the movie “The Big Chill“. My word of warning: As with most chick lit, there are some significantly maudlin passages in the first half, while immature characters waffle on about what they “should” be feeling; persevere, though, and find hope that even those kinds of people can mature enough to grow beyond their limitations.