What happens when two thirtysomething siblings relive the summer reading programs of their youth in an all-out battle of the books? The race is on as they read by the rules and keep tally on their logs to see who will be the ultimate reader by Labor Day 2010.

July 11, 2010

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents, Liza Palmer

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents: how can you not read a book with this title?

I usually don't browse the new release section in the library. Part of the reason for this is that in the old library building, new releases were shelved in a small room behind the main circulation desk, requiring a slick side move around the cart full of book returns. It felt a little too clandestine for me. Nowadays, with my significant Amazon.com addiction, I've usually already purchased and read the new books of interest to me. Choosing library books means that I sit my daughter in her favorite chair in the adult fiction section, tell her to stay and read right there, not to move, then spend 90 seconds doing the library version of "Supermarket Sweep".

However, I'm trying to limit my expenses, so yesterday afternoon I did a quick perusal of the new releases and wound up with Liza Palmer's latest title. After doublechecking that I was, in fact, in the fiction new releases (because, otherwise, ick), I grabbed it before the man next to me could get to it first (just in case his browsing in the large print section was a complete ruse).

I'd never read Liza Palmer until now, but with a cover blurb from Meg Cabot and a cutesy cover image (replicated not once, but twice, on the rest of the jacket; maybe marketing will splurge on a future edition), I had already cast some judgment. By the second chapter, Palmer had left the traditional chick-lit outline (girl meets boy, girl meets ex-boy, girl chooses 200 pages later) and turned the focus to family relationships. After their father abandons the family following years of infidelity, Huston, Abigail, Grace and Leo form a tight circle around their mother, who later dies in a freak car accident. Grace, 30 at her mother's death, abruptly severs all contact with her siblings only to reunite with them five years later, around their estranged father's deathbed.

Despite some weak writing and loose ends that tied all too neatly together, I found myself really drawn to the characters. Huston's need to do the right thing as the oldest child resonated with me. I related to Abigail's frantic multitasking of being daughter-wife-mother, especially when plans didn't go as intended. I just plain liked Leo. And while I couldn't understand why Grace made certain choices, I still wanted a happy ending for her (delivered no fuss, no muss).

Most of us won't have to deal with the extremes presented in "A Field Guide", but neither are we immune to the complexities of mourning a sudden death or grieving a loss with mixed emotions. Palmer addresses what it's like to be do this in your 30s, when you have adult responsibility but have not yet lost the knee jerk reaction to childhood angst--but with enough lightness and fluff to keep the reader out of therapy.


  1. Three books in four days??? This pace seems unmanageable by a human, and therefore I strongly suggest Brendan inject the 912-pg, multi-generational novel Shadow Country into this situation as a "top kill" to try and staunch the immense, impossible flow of chick-lit we are seeing. (I mean female-friendly-lit.)


  2. I view "Shadow Country" as the abridged version of the original trilogy (which I read over a long weekend a few years back). It was ok.

  3. And another intergenerational family melodrama is read by one of us.