Thirteen-year-old Henry lives with his mother, Adele, a divorced woman who struggles with depression and possibly some mental health issues. The two have been alone for years as her inability to cope with life has grown worse and worse, and she has passed her burdens on to her son. Henry staggers under their weight, and is socially awkward and unpopular at school, lonely, friendless and bored. His own father has moved on now, with a new family. Although he dutifully takes Henry out for supper every Saturday night, in a ritual Henry hates, there’s no real connection between them, and Henry’s convinced his father prefers his stepson to Henry.
One sweltering Thursday just before Labor Day weekend, when Adele and Henry have made a rare trip to the mall, Henry meets a man who asks for a ride home. Henry feels honored to have been singled out, although somewhat confused by the man, who’s wearing an employee’s shirt and adding a fleece vest and a baseball cap whose tags he rips off. He’s bleeding, too. The man’s name is Frank, and Adele, drifting along emotionless as she does, agrees to give him a ride home.
Once back at their house, Frank tells the two how he hurt himself. Jumping out a window, after an appendectomy, escaping prison. The duo accept this with equanimity. By now, newspapers and TV news updates are screaming the news of a massive manhunt in the area. It seems obvious Frank will stay for a while. What perhaps isn’t immediately obvious is the ways in which the 3 will come together, and begin to bond in unlikely ways.
For years, Adele has been too depressed to really cook, but Frank takes over, making them chili the first night, taking Henry out in the back to play catch, and, in a memorable scene, teaching him how to make a peach pie from a bag of over-ripe peaches donated by a neighbour, a skill that will stay with Henry for the rest of his life. As the damaged and emotionally-fragile Adele begins to wake up, Henry vacillates between enjoying a father figure and panicking about what he might lose. A meeting with another emotionally-damaged teenage girl facilitates a denouement.
Although pretty much every mother who reads this book is mentally shouting at Adele for her incredibly dangerous decision to allow an escaped convict unfettered access to her son, I must say that Adele as a character was believable to me although not admirable. As we move through the book and learn more of her backstory, we see the events that so damaged her fragile psyche.
The events of the fateful weekend are narrated by Henry, a sensitive boy who is dealing with the many conflicting emotions of adolescence. Henry’s a sympathetic character and proves himself in general to be a reliable observer. Labor Day takes place over 6 days, days which change the shape of 3 lives forever.
Labor Day is set in the 80s, and author Joyce Maynard does a good job of recreating the era down to even small details. The novel is a fast read and while the characters are in some ways predictable, the story is sweet and shows ways that love can find you in unexpected places, and that families can be created in the most unlikely ways.
In honour of the release of the movie Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, the publisher is giving away a copy of the book. To win, just follow the instructions below starting with leaving a comment telling me: what’s your favorite kind of pie?
To earn an extra entry, be sure to check out my post about reading Labor Day in my bookclub and leave a comment over there. Leave a comment here and log in both of those entries in the widget below first!