three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-Labor DayJoyce Maynard is the author of the best-selling memoir, At Home in the World, which chronicles her troubled adolescence and her relationship with the reclusive J. D. Salinger. Labor Day is her sixth novel.

The Story: Henry, now an adult, reflects on his adolescence in a small New Hampshire town. The year is 1987, and 13-year-old Henry is spending the dog days of summer watching television and indulging in hormonal daydreams. Henry’s father has moved on and remarried, but his mother, Adele, remains depressed and secluded in the family home. The teenager’s unrelieved boredom comes to a grinding halt, however, when he and Adele encounter a wounded stranger asking for help at a local discount store. The two welcome Frank into their home, and what follows is a Labor Day weekend that will change Henry’s life forever.
William Morrow. 244 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780061843402

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Joyce Maynard is one of those blessed authors who can compress a lifetime’s worth of ideas and emotions into a spare piece of work. … [She] has forged an indelible, precise portrait of early adolescence." Joy Tipping

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a testament to Maynard’s skill that she makes this ominous setup into a convincing and poignant coming-of-age tale. … She understands the deep yearnings that drive people to impulsive decisions and sometimes reckless behavior." Caroline Preston

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Reduced to its broad outlines, Labor Day can’t help sounding a little ridiculous: a goofy mash-up of Mary Poppins, The Bridges of Madison County and Cape Fear, minus the fear. … Like all the fiction Joyce Maynard has written, her new novel may lack many of the literary qualities thought necessary to create a convincing illusion, yet it will not be dismissed." Donna Rifkind

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[It] is first and foremost a page-turner, and its momentum and brevity compensate for a couple of distractions along the way." Marion Winik

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he novel’s most convincing voice is Henry, poised between little boy and mouthy teen. Wise and wide-eyed and forthright, he’s Holden Caulfield without the edge, and the pleasure of this novel comes from listening to his narrative take on what he sees." Elizabeth Fishel

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"As romantic fantasies go, the premise of Joyce Maynard’s new novel, Labor Day[,] is a doozy. … Labor Day works—despite its implausible Lifetime plot—by smartly focusing on the blinkered and somewhat naive perspective of Henry." Thom Geier

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"[P]ush aside the dubious love story … Labor works best as a coming-of-age tale about Henry." Olivia Barker

Critical Summary

Maynard has crafted a tender and highly readable coming-of-age tale with an endearing young protagonist. Henry, whose adolescent experiences with love, loss, and crushed expectations brought to mind Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel Atonement, charmed the critics. But these same reviewers also pointed out elements of the preposterous, including Adele’s easy acceptance of a bleeding stranger when most mothers would have run for the authorities. Additionally, they felt Adele’s risky behavior jarred with the reclusive persona previously portrayed in the novel. Still, most critics found Henry’s story to be a worthy one, noting that "Maynard offers fresh insight into what constitutes family" (USA Today).