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Labor Day    by Joyce Maynard order for
Labor Day
by Joyce Maynard
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2009 (2009)
* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Schulenburg

Thirteen-year-old Henry lives a lonely existence. Not cool enough for the cool kids, or geeky enough for the geek crowd, he has very few friends. His parents divorced, he lives alone with his mother, and reluctantly has dinner with his father's new family once a week. His mother Adele has grown more and more fearful of the outside world, rarely venturing outside, keeping Henry enclosed with her in the confines of their four walls. On one of their rare trips to the grocery store, an injured man asks Henry for help. When his mother uncharacteristically invites the stranger back to their home, Henry knows something unusual is about to happen.

They soon learn that the stranger, Frank, has escaped from prison, though he assures them they are in no danger. His calm, patient manner belies his criminal past, and Henry and Adele soon find themselves cautiously beginning to trust him. As the three begin to feel comfortable around each other, Henry finds himself imagining what life would be like if they were truly a family. Over the course of a Labor Day weekend, Henry, Adele, and Frank learn lessons about love, growing up, trust, and forgiveness. But how long can their happy dream last? And what will happen if someone finds out the truth about their plans?

Labor Day is a novel, like much contemporary fiction today, with its strengths and weaknesses. Its weakness lies in the fact that, for many avid readers of contemporary fiction, much of the book will seem familiar. While Maynard writes a good story, many of the themes and devices used will have been read before, giving the reader the sense that they can predict what will happen next. While the major points of the plot are certainly unique, there is not enough to distinguish this book from the next the reader will pick up, giving it the potential to be quickly read, and just as quickly forgotten.

The strength of Labor Day, however, is its main character - thirteen-year-old Henry, whose honest and sincere struggles to understand the changing world around him might just elevate this book above the rest on the shelf. Maynard has perfectly captured the essence of a young teenaged boy - insecure, lonely, wondering about girls and sports and how he fits in to the greater scheme of things. His relationships with his parents are heartbreakingly real, and his tentative attempts at friendship with Frank, and later Eleanor, the eccentric girl he meets in the library, speak volumes about the longing for companionship that teenagers feel. While her other characters are interesting and relatable, Henry is the one the reader will remember after turning the last page.

'She was holding his hand as she spoke. But she was holding mine also, and for that moment at least, it seemed possible, seemed to make sense even, that a person could love her son and love her lover, and nobody would come up short. We'd all be happy. Her being happy was only a good thing for me. Our finding each other - not just him finding her, but all three of us - was the first true piece of good luck in any of our lives in a long time.'

Labor Day is an entertaining story, probably a quick read for most, with characters and plot that are interesting if not groundbreaking. However, don't read Labor Day for its revolutionary ideas about love and forgiveness - read it to fall in love with a young boy named Henry, and I don't think you will be disappointed.

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