Title: This Must Be the Place
Author: Kate Racculia
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
First line: Amy considered the postcard: a boardwalk scene.
When Arthur Rook’s wife Amy dies suddenly in a freak accident, he implodes into himself. He finds an unsent postcard addressed to someone named Mona in Ruby Falls, New York, and realizes he didn’t know Amy as well as he thought he did. He packs up and heads to New York, where Mona runs the Darby-Jones Boarding House and her own wedding cake bakery. As Arthur invades Mona’s home and life, Mona is forced to face her own past and deal with the secrets she’s never told anyone, not even her 15-year-old daughter, Oneida.
I admit it, I put off reading this book. I’ve had it to review since last summer. I know, that’s a long time. Of course, my summer was insane, what with spending a combined total of 25 nights in the hospital with Natalie. But really, what it all comes down to is that I really hate this book’s cover. You’d think a book blogger, of all people, would know not to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes I can’t help it. If I hate a book’s cover, it will take some pretty high marks from other reviewers or trusted friends to get me to give it a try. And I don’t remember seeing this reviewed on any other blogs, a fact which, after reading it and discovering that it is a truly delightful read, I am a bit puzzled about.
This is a book with a secret, a secret that I figured out before it was revealed. Usually, when that happens, it still takes forever for the author to reveal it or for characters to figure it out, and it drives me crazy that I could get it but they couldn’t. This doesn’t happen with this book. Just when I got my hunch what the secret was, it was confirmed in an almost nonchalant aside. I loved that the author caught me off guard that way.
The best thing about this book, by far, is the characters. Poor lost Arthur, who has no idea how to deal with the vortex of grief he has been sucked into; Mona, who loves her fascinating daughter more than life; teenage Oneida, who is truly an individual, a girl discovering who she is and what she wants; Eugene “Wendy” Wendell, the town bully with the huge crush on Oneida; Bert, the cranky old lady who lives in the attic of the boarding house. And always, in the background, is Amy. Amy is only alive in the book in flashbacks, and yet she is a hovering presence. She was the kind of person who flitted through life, doing her own thing, watching out for herself, and leaving everyone she met along the way stunned and changed forever.
The subplot involving Oneida and Eugene was just as engaging as the main plot about Arthur and Mona; Racculia does a brilliant job of capturing the hormonal angst that is the teenager and their weirdly comic relationship was a delight to read. I loved Eugene’s lust-motivated desire to stand up for Oneida – and the scene where he “puts a guitar out if its misery” in order to teach a boy who hurt Oneida a lesson was hilarious and made me want to do a victorious fist-pump in the air.
I am so glad that I didn’t put off reading this book even one more day. Maybe the cover doesn’t bother you, but if it does, ignore it and dive into the stories of the people who live inside the cover.