Susan McCloskey has worked at Bookshop Santa Cruz since graduating from UCSC in 2000. She is the former Event Coordinator at Bookshop and continues to consult for the store. In her other life, she is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She believes in story, and loves the meld of working with books, narrative, and people.
I read this book in one sitting, having picked it up rather carelessly and then found myself quickly immersed in a voice I didn’t expect and a story I didn’t want to leave. Set in a small town that suddenly becomes a hot spot after a woodpecker that was thought to be extinct is spotted, 17-year-old Cullen is both impressed and mortified to watch his town transform. Suddenly his peers are sporting woodpecker-inspired haircuts and bird-watching becomes an ideal date. Cullen is startled at how suddenly change comes without warning, but when his 15-year-old brother goes missing amidst the chaos, his surprise turns to something more vigilant and shadowed. This YA novel (which won the coveted Michael Printz Award) is layered with regret, surprise, and humor, and it calls to mind how ordinary and extraordinary are only a coin’s throw apart—how the intersection between grief and hope are so related, and how believing in second chances is ultimately an act of bravery like no other.
While there have been many memoirs written about grieving (from Isabel Allende’s Paula, about the loss of her daughter, to Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, detailing her story of widowhood), Meghan O’Rourke’s book is notable in that it tells the story of an adult child losing a parent. O’Rourke was in her late 20s when her mother died of cancer. The Long Goodbye is her story of grief and longing. It details the complexity and sharp edges that exist between mothers and daughters, but it also speaks of an American family and the joys and thrills that exist in everyday life. I loved this memoir for its layered simplicity—the ways that loss, love, pretense, and discovery weave together. O’Rourke offers us a real look at the complicated, and in this case, everlasting, mother–daughter bond.