Friday, December 4, 2009

Review: C'est la vie.

When I started reading Megan McAndrew's newest novel, Dreaming in French, I thought, "Man, I want this girl's life." It's the late 1970s, and Charlotte Sanders is a fifteen-year-old American living in an upscale Paris neighborhood with her sixteen-year-old sister Lea and their expatriate parents. The publisher blurb describes Charlotte as "precocious," and I can't think of a much better adjective. She is highly aware of her surroundings, the way people react, the way society functions. She's at that in-between age where, say, she wants to experience sex but is not quite ready to give up her virginity; she's nearly independent but still can't sleep if her mother, Astrid, is not yet home for the evening.

Charlotte's belief system severely shifts, however, as she begins to understand the nuances of the adult world. Astrid has an affair with a Polish nationalist, and the family is torn apart. Charlotte leaves her father and sister behind in Paris and follows her mother to the States to start over. In New York, Charlotte is forced to grow up fast as she realizes her mother's flaws and ineptness. Torn between New York and Paris, Charlotte has to guide herself through adolescence to adulthood the changing world of the late-70s and 80s.

Told in Charlotte's first-person perspective, the story has a very straightforward and, at times, almost dismissive voice behind it. As the reader, you can sense Charlotte's confusion, frustration, and...well, restlessness. It's almost as if she's just going through the motions, trying to get through life until the next time she's jerked back to reality by something else dramatic (can't have a novel in France without a little drama, can you?). It's a coming-of-age tale in an appealing setting.

McAndrew writes beautifully—prose that flows and really puts the reader into the scene. I'm pretty sure I disliked each character at some point, but the story wasn't written in a way that led you to decidedly like or dislike its characters. It's kinda like you are stuck with them, as in a family, and you have to take the good with the bad. There was no great tension building throughout, nor a dramatic, culminating scene, but I couldn't put this book down. By the end, you realize you're reading the voice of a person that has experienced so much, she's completely different than she was at the beginning of the story. Ah, c'est la vie.

Dreaming in French was publishing in September by Scribner.
Review copy provided by LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

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