October 1, 2009

Labor Day

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
2009 William Morrow
Finished on 9/11/09
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Product Description

With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect pie crust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.

In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's
Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, acclaimed author Joyce Maynard weaves a beautiful, poignant tale of love, sex, adolescence, and devastating treachery as seen through the eyes of a young teenage boy—and the man he later becomes—looking back at an unexpected encounter that begins one single long, hot, life-altering weekend.

I sure don't hear much about Joyce Maynard in the blogging world. When I mention her name to customers at work, I get a blank look. I add that I used to love reading her weekly parenting column every Saturday morning (I think she shared the same page as Dave Barry in the San Diego Union back in the late '80s), and that blank look intensifies. When I mention To Die For (one of her earlier novels), it's only when I add the tidbit about the film adaptation (starring Nicole Kidman and Matt Damon) that I finally get a flicker of recognition. And when I mention her coming-of-age novel, The Usual Rules, I might only find a couple of people who have actually heard of it. What a shame that such a talented author has slipped under so many readers' radars.

Like The Usual Rules (
an incredibly honest and touching story about a young girl's loss as a result of the tragic events of 9/11), Labor Day is also a coming-of-age story with themes of forgiveness, trust, unconditional love and friendship. It is not an action-packed story, but rather one of great character development, reminiscent of Plainsong (Kent Haruf) and An Unfinished Life (Mark Spragg). The spare realism draws the reader in to the lives of the characters, not letting go, holding on for days (weeks even) after finishing the last line.

I rarely gush about a book, but I really loved this story! It's been three weeks since I finished and I'm still thinking about the characters. And the peach pie. I may have to reread that segment and try my hand at that crust.

The Usual Rules made my Top Ten list in 2005 and I am fairly certain that Labor Day will make this year's list. Don't miss this compelling novel and author. Beautiful prose and unforgettable characters. You just can't go wrong.

Go here to read my review of The Usual Rules.


  1. I've always liked Maynard's work, too.

  2. Haven't read anything, or even heard of, Maynard. (cringe) I loved Unfinished Life but not so much, Plainsong. Adding this to my list.

  3. I've never read anything by her, but thanks to this review, I think that's about to change!

  4. There is something very appealing about that cover!

  5. I've heard of her but never read anything by her -- I think I will pick up this book and add it to my ever growing tbr pile -- near the top.

  6. Bybee - There! Someone else who's read her! :)

    Booklogged - Wasn't An Unfinished Life spectacular?! I went to look for my copy and couldn't find it!! I have no idea who I loaned it to, but it's gone. Guess I'll have to find a copy for my keeper shelf. Hope you enjoy this one when you get to it.

    Pam - Let me know what you think. She's really very good!

    Kailana - And, you know, I wasn't all that impressed with the cover. It doesn't seem to be much of an eye-catcher on the shelf. Having read the book, though, I appreciate it much more than when I first came upon it.

    Katya - Happy to enable. :)

  7. I so enjoyed Labor Day. I was glad to read your review and see that you like it as well.

  8. Diane - I just read your wonderful review. Nice to see I'm not alone in my response to this wonderful book.

  9. I'm gonna get me this one. :) I have seen nothing but good since I saw it announced.

  10. Joy - As much as I enjoyed it, I doubt I'll read it again. Want my copy?

  11. Les! I'll e-mail you later today.

  12. I used to read her nonfiction about her kids growing up but even then there was something about her that put me off. Then the Salinger book came out and I felt disgusted.

  13. Nan - Did you read her column way back when? She's from New Hampshire, right? I think I remember you & I chatting about her years ago and that you didn't care too much for her.

  14. Thank you for your review of Labor Day. I finished it and loved it. I am going to rave about it to anyone who will listen. If it is ok I would like to link your review on my blog. Let me know if it is ok. Thank you,
    Carolina Book Stacks

  15. Carolina Book Stacks - Wasn't it a good book?! You are more than welcome to link to my review. I look forward to visiting your blog later this afternoon. Thanks for stopping by!


I may not answer your comments in a timely fashion, but I always answer. Check back soon!