My rating: 4 of 5 stars
HARDCOVER BOOK — 1455561770 / 9781455561773
ELECTRONIC BOOK — 1455561754 / 9781455561759
Available in the U.S. April 17, 2018
A gorgeous and taut literary drama in the vein of We Need to Talk about Kevin, from the critically acclaimed author of The Blessings, about a mother and daughter struggling with guilt, fear, and the dangerous bonds of family in the aftermath of a mass shooting in their small New England town.
After a shooting in her local mall in rural Maine, English professor Maggie Daley is stunned to learn the gunman was her former student. She is further dismayed when she finds an old essay offering clues to his violent nature she might have missed.
Even as the tragedy begins to fade from the national consciousness, its ripple effect on Maggie intensifies, jeopardizing her relationships with those closest to her, including her anxiety-ridden daughter, Anna; her ex-husband; and her boss-not to mention her new, but secret, relationship with a colleague. Meanwhile, a viral social media post prompts further public scrutiny and an investigation into the shooter's troubled past. Feeling pressured from all sides, Maggie begins to fear that her culpability may extend past a simple sense of guilt and put the life she's built at risk.
IF WE HAD KNOWN explores the private implications of public tragedies, how we navigate fear in today's world, and whether it's possible to see anyone-children, parents, students--as they truly are.
If We Had Known is a book that I was not totally sure that I would finish. Why? Because there are several predictable moments in the book that felt a bit too much for me to take. The first one occurred after I had read 25% of the book when the main characters made a move that I just KNEW would bite her in the ass later on. And, then several more occurrences happened that made me mentally roll my eyes. However, I decided to keep going. And, I'm glad for it because I ended up liking the book very much.
Notwithstanding the fact that I struggled with some parts of the book is the story actually really engrossing, and if you stick with the book, despite, being annoyed with some of Maggie's decisions, etc., then you will find that this book is actually pretty good. Personally, I found how society dealt with the mass shooting to be the interesting part of the book, how quick people are to judge, how the internet can play a large part in judgment because you can be anonymous. Also, we have the big issue, how far do we go when it comes to seeing signs of a troubled youth? Should teachers and professors be more observant when it comes to essays? What role do they have, should they try to interfere, for instance, report students when they show signs that something is off? Isn't that a very big responsibility to put on teachers' shoulders, to try to see who's troubled or not?
I got a bit sidetracked there. What I want to say is that this book is a great book to read (and discuss). Yes, there were some parts that I found hard to digest because it felt so predictably, but overall is this book really good!
If We Had Known by Elise Juska
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elise Juska's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review, Good Housekeeping, The Hudson Review, and many other publications. She is the recipient of the Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction from Ploughshares and her work has been cited in The Best American Short Stories. She lives in Philadelphia, where she is the director of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of the Arts.
PRAISE FOR ELISE JUSKA:
"What a gripping and wise book this is. Elise Juska's unparalleled ability to convey how a single tragic event reaches out to change the lives of many is on full and compelling display here. I love when I read a book like If We Had Known and discover my next go-to gift for all my favorite readers."
--- Robin Black, author of Life Drawing
"A tender, whip-smart meditation on the origins and aftermath of tragedy. Here Juska asks us an important and quietly devastating question: In what ways are we responsible to and for each other?"
--- Carmen Maria Machado, author of the National Book Award Finalist Her Body and Other Parties
"Switching between viewpoints, Juska contrasts the actions of a split second and the slow burn of a lifetime of behavior to show that both can have extensive, damning consequences that are rarely foreseen."
"Captivates through the close and honest lens it places upon each of its characters."
--- RT Book Review
"Juska's story nests in a thicket of current issues: social media, gun violence, teenage anxiety and anorexia, and the responsibility of academics with regard to troubled students. Well-written, realistic, and suspenseful to the point of dread."
--- Kirkus Reviews
"There's no shortage of novels about the quirks and tragedies of large families, but The Blessings is a uniquely poignant, prismatic look at an Irish-Catholic clan as it rallies after losing one of its own."
--- Entertainment Weekly on The Blessings
"[A] bighearted novel. . . . Juska's moving, multifaceted portrait of the Blessing family gleams like a jewel."
--- The Philadelphia Inquirer on The Blessings
"The Blessings are a family so real in all their sorrow, joy and complexity that they could be yours or mine. Juska's portrait of this close-knit clan is bursting with wise observations about the nature of love and belonging. I enjoyed every page."
--- J. Courtney Sullivan New York Times-bestselling author of The Engagements and Maine on The Blessings
"Elise Juska is so good at describing people, places, and moments that you not only picture them, you feel them."
--- Curtis Sittenfeld on The Blessings
"Stunning...unique and unforgettable."
--- Glamour on The Blessings