Review: The End of Always by Randi Davenport

the-end-of-always“A stunning debut novel, THE END OF ALWAYS tells the story of one young woman’s struggle to rise above a vicious family legacy and take charge of her own life.
In 1907 Wisconsin, seventeen-year-old Marie Reehs is determined: she will not marry a violent man, as did her mother and grandmother before her. Day after day, Marie toils at the local laundry, watched by an older man who wants to claim her for his own. Night after night, she is haunted by the memory of her mother, who died in a mysterious accident to which her father was the only witness. She longs for an independent life, but her older sister wants nothing more than to maintain the family as it was, with its cruel rules and punishments. Her younger sister is too young to understand.
At first, it seems that Marie’s passionate love affair with a charismatic young man will lead her to freedom. But she soon realizes that she too may have inherited the Reehs women’s dark family curse.
Set in the lush woods and small towns of turn-of-the-century Wisconsin, and inspired by real events in the author’s family history, THE END OF ALWAYS is a transcendent story of one woman’s desperate efforts to escape a brutal heritage. Both enthralling and deeply lyrical, Randi Davenport’s novel is also an intensely affecting testament to the power of determination and hope, and a gripping reminder of our nation’s long love affair with violence.” – Goodreads

A deep and thought-provoking novel, Randi Davenport’s The End of Always chronicles the journey of a courageous young woman who decides that her world is not good enough and braves a new path for herself, breaking the vicious cycle of domestic violence her family has always known. While this is something to be commended and is quite often something we deal with here in 2014, what is unique about this story is that it takes place in 107 years ago in Wisconsin – a time when women belonged to men, and did not just leave.

It’s 1907 and Marie Reehs is living under the brutal hand of her father with her two sisters. Her mother has just died a mysterious and violent death, one she suspects was at the hands of her abusive father. Soon after her mother’s death, Marie’s father hires her out to work at a local laundry, where her employer is also a possessive and cruel man. Eventually Marie meets August Bethke – a kind, loving, and charismatic young man who promises to take her away from this world of pain. Soon the two are married and Marie’s new life begins.

Unfortunately, marriage to August is not what Marie had hoped it would be. She is left alone each day, sometimes for more than one day, without food or light. August often comes home drunk, where he berates her and beats her. At one point he beats her so badly that neighbors must break into their home to save Marie from being killed. A kind neighbor harbors her in their home until she is well enough to walk again, and then assists her in gathering her belongings and moving in with an uncle in Milwaukee to hide.

Marie becomes one of few women of her era to seek legal independence from her husband despite the prejudice that stands against her for this. While she has the support of a friend and of her uncle and one of her sisters, her older sister claims that the near-deadly beating was Marie’s own fault and urges her to apologize and return to her husband’s side. What happens next is something you will have to learn when you read this compelling and all-too-relatable novel for yourself.

Something I found quite interesting was that The End of Always is based on actual events that occurred to Randi Davenport’s great-grandmother. She spent much time with court documents and other research to glean as much information as possible to include in this novel to make certain events as true-to-life as possible. Her portrayal of Marie and her family was realistic to me – that of an abusive and abused family. In portraying Marie as a victim of abuse, and perpetuating that cycle – there was a huge red flag with August before they married (see if you can figure out what that was) but she mistakenly confused that with a show of love, for to her, pain equaled love. There are so many parallels when comparing these events of 1907 to 2014, as domestic violence is still so very prevalent in many families with the unhealthy learned behavior perpetuating the vicious cycle of abuse. Marie shows considerable insight when considering this topic:

“You have known girls like me. You might have been a girl like me. We are all the same under the skin, girls who pick up leaves and stones and have hopes for the future and who are taught that we must marry and obey and love. Our mothers told us, It’s not his fault. He doesn’t know how to touch you the right way. Our mothers told us to forgive him. Our mothers told us it was our fault. You should have seen it coming, they said. You should have known that he would do that. You should not have made him angry. And so we are shamefaced and still and silent and scared. We are afraid of him and afraid that no one will save us and sure that we cannot save ourselves. These things should be familiar to you as the song you sing when you do the wash.You know us and you have been us and you might be one of us yet. It might not be a hand or a brick or a blade. It might be a word or a look that promises the course of the cane. It might be a darkness that you cannot name but which you know is with you and has been with you for as long as you can remember. Perhaps these ideas are too common even to bear repeating. And yet they must be repeated because every day the papers are filled with the stories of women who have been thrown from windows or shot with guns or lost in the night, a long, terrible story that is as familiar as the air we breathe. We have not seen the last girl. She has not yet walked among us.”

These words were true for Marie in 1907. These words are true today, in 2014. That, my friends, is not a happy ending.

The End of Always by Randi Davenport. Buy it, read it, love it.

4 stars

Source: Twelve {via Goodreads First Reads}

 

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Review: Safe with Me by Amy Havatny

safe-with-me“A novel about two mothers and one daughter who are linked by tragedy and bound by secrets, from the acclaimed author of Heart Like Mine. Now, in the provocative Safe with Me, Amy Hatvany explores controversial and timely issues with astonishing emotional complexity.
The screech of tires brought Hannah Scott’s world as she knew it to a devastating end. Even a year after she signed the papers to donate her daughter’s organs, Hannah is still reeling with grief when she unexpectedly stumbles into the life of the Bell family, whose child, Maddie, survived only because hers had died. Mesmerized by this fragile connection to her own daughter and afraid to reveal who she actually is, Hannah develops a surprising friendship with Maddie’s mother, Olivia.
The Bells, however, have problems of their own. Once on the verge of leaving her wealthy but abusive husband, Olivia now finds herself bound to him as never before in the wake of the successful transplant that saved their fifteen-year-old daughter’s life. Meanwhile Maddie, tired of the limits her poor health puts upon her and fearful of her father’s increasing rage, regularly escapes into the one place where she can be anyone she wants: the Internet. But when she is finally healthy enough to return to school, the real world proves to be just as complicated as the isolated bubble she had been so eager to escape.
A masterful narrative, shaped by nuanced characters whose fragile bonds are on a collision course with the truth, Safe with Me is a triumph.” – Publisher Summary

Oh, y’all. Y’all, y’all, y’all. Safe With Me by Amy Havatny was a bit of a traumatic read for me, in that it involves a single mother whose only child dies at the age of twelve. Single mother? Hi, how ‘ya doing? Twelve-year-old child? Hell000! While I did not cry (I don’t do that too terribly easily), I did spend much of the time reading this book with a tight feeling of panic rising up in my chest… Um, it is possible that I identified with this character’s position just a wee too much. ‘Ya think?

This story is narrated by Hannah, Olivia, and Maddie. Hannah’s twelve-year-old daughter Emily, is killed in a car accident and Hannah donates Emily’s organs. Olivia’s daughter, Maddie, is just days away from death when she receives the gift of Emily’s liver and is able to return to relative health and back to a somewhat normal life. Organ donors and recipients are required to remain anonymous and time passes as each family goes on with their lives.

Hannah spends a year living inside a bubble of grief when Olivia and Maddie step into her salon one day and she realizes that Maddie is the recipient of Emily’s liver. Hannah keeps this information to herself, although she begins to develop a friendship with Olivia. Despite the relief of Maddie’s improved health, Olivia continues to live under a shadow – that of her increasingly abusive husband, James. As she and Hannah grow closer, Olivia’s secret threatens to come to light – and there’s no telling what kind of danger she and Maddie will be put in if that happens.

Safe With Me is an emotionally charged tale of tragedy, grief, loneliness, friendship, secrets, and second chances. There are many weighty issues dealt with here: organ donation, domestic violence, teens and the internet, and the relationships between both women and women and their daughters. Havatny managed to touch on each of these issues more than lightly, but without delving extremely deeply into any one, thus keeping the story from becoming too strongly pulled into one direction.

Amy-HatvanyI was definitely touched by this gripping and heart-wrenching tale. I had already heard good  things about Amy Havatny’s writing, and I now look forward to reading more of her work. If you are in the market for a touchy-feely, emotional roller-coaster ride, this may be the book for you.

Safe With Me by Amy Havatny. Buy it, read it, love it.

3.5 out of 5

Source: Washington Square Press {via NetGalley}

 

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