Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Firefly Lane": Before The Nightingale, this one was considered her best

Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with me that I don't love the books I am pretty sure that I SHOULD love.  I've been called a "book snob" before, and I know that it's true.  In the summer, though, I generally love a good sappy romance, and I thought I would find it with Kristin Hannah's 2008 huge hit "Firefly Lane." This book, touted as her best before "The Nightingale," intrigued me.  It sounded like a perfect summer book - love, friendship, loyalty, loss.  Yum. I LOVED "The Nightingale", so I thought I would be just as enchanted by "Firefly Lane" and I was even more happy that it included nothing about WWII, but I was sorely disappointed by Hannah's lack of writing depth in this straightforward and often cliched book.

To be fair, the story is a good one.  "Firefly Lane" follows the friendship between an unlikely pair - innocent, ugly duckling, Kate whose family bonds are strong and dependable, and beautiful, rebellious Tully who moves next door with her burn out mother for a short span of time in the summer of 1974.  They become TullyandKate, inseparable best friends, and forge a bond that transcends the ravages of time, motherhood, love gained and lost, and jealousy both buried and apparent.

There is much to love in this story of friendship.  The cultural references throughout struck a cord with me.  With each decade came new challenges.  In the 70s, the girls struggled with their own forming identities, but found solace in summer bike rides.  In the 80s, the power struggles of college where Tully wanted them to stick together and enter the world of journalism as a pair, and Kate's ever growing sense of disinterest surfaced.  Tully's quest for t.v. stardom continued to grow through the 90s and early 2000s as she gained more and more fame and notoriety and Kate's priorities shifted to motherhood.  Each of the women long for what the other possesses and each feel pangs of regret over their chosen paths, but always remain friends. I could relate to the changing styles, the changing priorities, and the ability to stick to a friend even after betrayals.

The friendship was sweet at first, but something shifted for me when the girls entered college.  Tully's sense of entitlement and her blind ambition made me sad.  Kate's devoted loyalty to her egomaniac friend made me sad, too.  And that pattern continued their whole lives.  It was hard for me to understand why Kate remained so faithful to Tully who clearly was out for herself for most of the story.  It was just as hard for me to understand Kate's inability to take care of herself EVER. My feelings shifted in the last few chapters of the book when Tully and Kate returned to the sweetness that defined their early friendship.  They needed each other, and loved each other like sisters, frenemies, life-long rivals and besties.

The writing was eye rolling worthy in many instances, and then sweet in others.  I cringed at the cliches and the predictability of the story line.  Some of the dialogue was dreadful and campy.  The thing is, though, that Kristin Hannah is a prolific writer with a devoted following for her 20 novels.  She writes for women who don't want a complex novel, but want something straightforward with conflicts of friendship and love intertwined.

I don't think I'll be reading any of her other earlier books, but I do know that I loved "The Nightingale" and it has many of the same elements that "Firefly Lane" possessed like one driven female character who rebels against society and another who is a headstrong mother. Hannah knows how to craft memorable female characters that modern women can relate to in many ways and she knows how to draw in readers, it just depends on how deep of a read you prefer and now, it seems with her latest bestseller "The Nightingale" that readers have a choice between substance free writing and something with a little more grit.

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