With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry -- lonely, friendless, not too good at sports -- spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele -- a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.
But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others -- especially those we love -- above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.
In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, Joyce Maynard tells a story of love, sexual passion, painful adolescence, and devastating betrayal as seen through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy -- and the man he later becomes -- looking back on the events of a single long, hot, and life-altering weekend.
Joyce Maynard created an extremely intriguing book in Labor Day. The story line was unlike anything that I had read before. Each of the characters were strong and the way that the author was able to recreate the thoughts of a 13 year old boy was quite impressive.
Henry's mother, while strange and wounded, created an interesting life for Henry. I think that she taught Henry about love an acceptance in an unconventional way. Frank's character also taught Henry things that he needed to learn as a growing boy and it seemed that it helped Henry to be a stronger person. Henry was lacking so many things in his life before Frank arrived - his relationship with his own father and his mother's hermit-like life let Henry be open to what Frank had to teach him. Labor Day really worked as a coming of age story.
The plot of the book did require me to suspend a bit of reality and attempt to block thoughts on what I would have done in Henry or Adele's situation. The uniqueness of the story and the strength of the characters that Maynard created made that much easier. I enjoyed Labor Day very much and recommend it to fiction lovers drawn to complex family stories, and young people navigating the challenges of growing up.