Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur brought tears to my eyes. It made me wonder "why am I putting myself through being so sad about characters that aren't even real?" And yet, doesn't that tell you that it's a wonderful book, a book with three-dimensional characters, so real that I cried over them? And, should you need another endorsement, Love, Aubrey was highly recommended to me by a 10-year-old reader of my blog, Maya.
Love, Aubrey begins with 11-year-old Aubrey living on her own in Virginia, watching lots of television, walking to grocery store to buy SpaghettiO's, and dodging the phone calls of concerned church ladies. The details of Aubrey's family tragedy, which she's denying even to herself, are revealed gradually over the first several chapters. Eventually, however, Aubrey's grandmother shows up, and whisks her away to Vermont. The rest of the story is about Aubrey's struggles to begin a new life, despite being overcome with longing for the old one.
Love, Aubrey is about grief and resilience. It's about friendship and family, and the everyday activities that bind us to other people. It's also, sad parts aside, a tween novel about girls just on the cusp of caring about boys and clothes and parties. Aubrey feels real, complete with flaws and guilt and occasional self-pity. I liked her best friend, Bridget, quite a lot, too, though I did wonder occasionally if Bridget might be a little too good to be true. I identified the most with Gram, who turns her life upside down to care for Aubrey, and does it with grace and humor. There are some other nice supporting characters, too.
Here are a few quotes, to give you a feel for the book:
"I relaxed in Bridget's mother's arms, resting my head on her shoulder as she rocked me. When I finally pulled away, there was wetness on her shirt. Drops I didn't need to carry around anymore." (Page 60)
"Most of the kids in the room were leaning against the desks, talking to each other. I could tell the leaning had something to do with showing they were cool. A lot of the girls had loose hair hanging in their faces. I was pretty sure they didn't have scars to hide, too. Even some of the boys had longer hair. One boy was running around the room, kind of acting like a little kid. He grabbed a hat off someone's head, an invitation for a chase, but the other kid just grabbed the hat back the next time the boy ran past." (Page 106) [This passage reminded me of my own middle school homeroom, and the boy who threw my yearbook out of the window. There's also a party scene that strongly reminded me of the first boy-girl party that I attended.]
"Gram made a super-good dinner. It was leftover meat loaf--meat loaf is better leftover--on soft hamburger buns with ketchup, and veggie medley--that's peas, corn, carrot, and green beans--and for dessert, four different kinds of Jello-O--lime blue raspberry, strawberry, and orange--cut into cubes and served all together... I suddenly realized that only someone with something very important to say could find the time to make four kinds of Jello-O and cut it into cubes and serve it all together." (Page 141)
Love, Aubrey is a strong debut novel, one that will linger in the reader's memory. Although beautiful and well-written, It's not for everyone. It's very sad. The moments of pathos keep on coming throughout the book (though there's hope and growth, too). But for middle-grade readers (or teens and adults) who are looking for stories with emotional resonance, this is a must-read. I would give it to fans of Brenda Ferber's Julia's Kitchen and Danette Haworth's Violet Raines Almost Got Hit by Lightning. Highly recommended. My thanks to Maya for the suggestion.
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication Date: June 9, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Kiss the Book, Wondrous Reads, Literate Lives, The Well-Read Child, Readingjunky's Reading Roost, Persnickety Snark, Mama Librarian
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission (with no additional cost to you).