Being objective is much harder when you know the author and she happens to be your professor. I decided to read Rene Steinke’s book as part of a ‘teaching early composition’ class I’m taking over the summer since “Friendswood” has been adopted as our official ‘college book’ for the year.
It was good. There were even parts that made me feel things, and that’s really the whole goal of any book; to stir the emotions enough to make the reader feel something. But this wasn’t a perfect book; this wasn’t what we here at CBR would consider a 5-star, and it makes me a little sad since you always want the best for the people you know and love. And I loved Steinke as a professor.
But, if I’m being objective, this is an almost 4. It’s about 3.7 if I’m being exact. There were excellent things, there was beautiful writing, and great character development, but there was also a lack of plot which is a personal killer of any book for me, and nothing really comes to a conclusion until the last thirty pages, which I found a little annoying. I also found the title a bit misleading, which really isn’t the book’s fault, but I went in with a completely different idea of what I thought this story was about, and I never quite recovered from that.
“Friendswood” follows five characters, Lee, Hal, Willa, Dex, and Cully, whose stories are interlaced around the central theme of a massive chemical spill that forces half the town to evacuate. Ten years later, a contractor comes in trying to rebuild homes on the old chemical site even though the ground is very obviously still poisoned and many of the area inhabitants have died of cancers or complications from exposure. Intermingled with this disaster are the lives of three teenagers torn apart by the bad consequences of a drunken party, and the aftermath they create.
There are parts of this book that are truly poignant, and the writing is so detailed you can almost see the scene being acted out before you. The story is thought provoking and asks the big question of how a person is supposed to move on after the worst has happened. But there are parts that are a little confusing and distract from the moment at hand. One of the teenagers, Willa, sees visions of monstrous creatures that speak to her throughout the novel, but aside from a symbolic religious nature, these creatures don’t do much more than distract during Willa’s chapters.
The characters also only seem to be tenuously related to the central plot at times, and it takes until the last thirty pages of the book for everyone’s involvement to become clear. It can be argued that this is a masterful tactic by Steinke, and it probably is, but I found myself getting annoyed and asking myself why the h*ll we were talking about a character who seemed ten steps removed from the central plot in a book not written by G.R.R Martin.
I feel like tenuously plotted characters totally works in a saga that’s 3,000 pages long; I’m not so sure it works in a stand-alone story of 350 pages.
However, if you love character development, and have a fond affiliation for small Texas towns, this book was incredibly well written, enjoyable and the characters were sweet and relatable.