“It was as if I’d been in the middle of a book that I had to put down when I got too tired to keep reading, or a video put on pause. I wanted to pick back up with the story and find out what happened to the characters, except that the characters were us.”
Written by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is a coming-of-age novel published in 2009 which is narrated by 13-year-old Henry Wheeler, who struggles to be the man of his house and care for his reclusive mother, Adele, while confronting all the pangs of adolescence. On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and his mother encounter Frank Chambers, a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home and later is revealed to be an escaped convict. The events of this long Labor Day weekend will shape them for the rest of their lives.
The following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film in comparison to the book soon.
Labor Day is a brilliant coming of age story. Narrated by 13-year-old Henry, we see the story through his eyes as he learns about things that all teenage boys experience as he goes through puberty and learns about his own sexuality, lessons that a father-figure teaches such as throwing a baseball and how to make the perfect pie crust, but also about things that are much bigger than the world he knows, including the power of love, the impact of betrayal, the power of jealousy, and the conflict between selfishness and selflessness.
It’s a relatable story for any young reader and Maynard captures the mind of a child on the cusp of becoming a teenager perfectly. It’s a brilliant technique to tell a tense story through the eyes of a young character as they see the world in a completely different light. They see the innocence in everything, which is something we lose as adults, and it’s because of this narrative style that we give all of these characters a chance before judging them too harshly.
It’s a fast read but it certainly one that grabs your attention. There are darker tones with the premise around a man who has been imprisoned for murder kidnapping and keeping hostage an unstable mother and her son and some more unsettling scenes around Adele and Frank’s past, but there’s also a powerfully raw tale of how love has no bounds that’s woven around this.
The lack of punctuation in dialogue is annoying as the speech isn’t always attributed, which does interrupt the flow of the story somewhat. But apart from that, the story is very moving at times and it is heart-warming throughout.
Labor Day was adapted into a film in 2014 which you can read my comparison review for here or watch the trailer for below: