In which our imagination kicks into overdrive...

Author:  Lionel Shriver
Genre:  Literary Fiction (Contemporary)
ISBN:  978-0-06-112429-7
Book Source:  Purchased Copy
Grade:  A-

You should know right off the bat that A Reader's Respite has an overactive imagination.  No one can create a mountain out of a molehill like we can.  And while we feel that everyone should be proud of their unique abilities, this is probably not a trait we should encourage in ourselves.

For example, we recently picked up a copy of Lionel Shriver's novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, an epistolary novel featuring personal letters from the mother of a teenage school shooter.  Yep, you read that right.  Gutsy topic.

This is our first Shriver novel and we admit that she hit one out of the ball park here.  The novel is Eva's recollection of her now-imprisoned son's upbringing....a soul-searching of where (if at all) Eva and her husband, Franklin, went wrong parenting this troubled teen whose explosive act of violence is mind-boggling.

Now here's where A Reader's Respite's imagination went awry:  as Eva recounts  her son's upbringing, Shriver's writing is so completely engrossing that we couldn't help but compare Kevin's every developmental milestone with our own erstwhile four year old (aka, Big Kid). 

As our imagination drew more and more parallels with Kevin as a youngster, we began giving Big Kid the evil eye every time he spilled his milk at lunchtime or tore the leg off his sister's Barbie.  By page 200, we were thinking:  Holy crap, we're living with Chucky.  For reals.

By page 300, we were perusing the Yellow Pages for child interventions and military schools.  Shriver had us entirely convinced that we have been harboring a miniature psychopath under our very roof.

Okay, by the end of the novel, A Reader's Respite finally figured out that Shriver is presenting the possibility that parents can do all of the right things and tragedy might still strike.  (Big Kid was finally allowed out of Time Out and heaved a tremendous sigh of relief at this point.)  But she leaves her themes open for interpretation -- making this novel the supreme Book Club choice -- and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about Eve and Franklin's parenting styles.

Aside from drawing the reader into serious moral and ethical quagmires, Shriver keeps the narrative moving along at an intense pace, despite her tendency to get a little fancy with her vocabulary choices (did someone get a shiny, new thesaurus for Christmas that year?).

Add to that a absolutely shocking twist at the end (we swear, we never saw it coming!) and you have a novel most deserving of the Orange Prize....which it indeed won in 2005. 

We Need to Talk About Kevin was Shriver's first literary best-seller (her previous seven novels went virtually unnoticed).  It's interesting to note that she claims it was rejected by thirty publishers before word-of-mouth reviews sent her to the best-seller list. 

If you're a parent, this book invokes endless thought and discussion, especially when you learn that Shriver herself is NOT a parent.  How accurately can an author delve into the parenting psyche without having experienced it themselves?  You decide.  Read the book.

(Oh, and feel free to call us if you need Military School recommendations afterwards.)


Many, many thanks go out to Linus's Blanket and Farm Lane Books for their accolades and recommendations of Shriver's work!

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