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Blue Plate Special

Review

Blue Plate Special

BLUE PLATE SPECIAL opens with the following Jewish proverb:
“What the daughter does, the mother did.” This
provocative quote is, at first, the only clue readers have about
the connections among the three apparently disparate narrative
strands that make up the novel.

First, readers meet Madeline, a teenager in Elmira, New York, in
1977. Madeline is overweight and unhappy, the daughter of a single
mother who spends all the struggling family’s money on booze
and cigarettes. To her surprise, Madeline’s pretty face
attracts the attention of a boy, Tad, who showers her with all the
love she is lacking at home. Eager to make changes in her life,
Madeline begins to lose weight and feel better about herself, even
befriending a popular cheerleader who’s hiding a secret from
everyone except Madeline.

Readers then come to know Desiree, a teenager in Johnson City,
New York, in 1993. Desiree’s mother is also hurtful and
neglectful; she is stoned on pain pills most of the time, and when
her boyfriend, Larry, starts to make inappropriate advances on
Desiree, she blames Desiree rather than the older man. When Desiree
becomes pregnant after getting raped by Larry, she runs away,
fearing rejection not only by her mother but also by her own
boyfriend, Jeremy, who believes he is the baby’s father.

The third narrator is Ariel, a teenager in Poughkeepsie, New
York, in 2009. Like the other girls, Ariel is on her own with her
mother, as her father is in prison for murder. Unlike Madeline and
Desiree, however, Ariel has a good relationship with her mother.
She’s a fine student with a great best friend, but when Ariel
starts dating Shane, his possessiveness and obsession threaten to
drive Ariel away from her other friends and even from her familial
obligations. A surprising phone call from a relative whom
Ariel’s mom thought she would never hear from again throws
the small family into crisis as Ariel and her mom try to figure out
if there’s still time for second chances.

These three stories come together in satisfying and, at times,
surprising ways. Careful readers will start to get clues about the
relationships among these three young women from different
generations as they read their stories. As the various narrative
strands converge, however, readers will gain a deeper appreciation
not only of their narrative connections but also of their
relationship to the novel’s themes about reliving the past,
starting over and creating a better future.

The three narrators --- Madeline, Desiree and Ariel --- have
very distinctive voices. Desiree’s sections, for example, are
written in verse, giving her especially tragic story a real
poignancy. At times, the authors’ attempts to contextualize
the stories by dropping in period details about fashion, food and
music seem overly deliberate and distracting as readers will be far
more interested in these three girls’ inner lives than in the
kind of jeans they wear or the cola they drink.

Overall, BLUE PLATE SPECIAL is the kind of novel that mothers
should give to their daughters or, even better, read and discuss
together. It is at once a vivid reminder that all mothers of
teenage daughters were once teenage girls themselves and a plea for
mothers and daughters to remember how to talk to and understand one
another.

   -

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

Blue Plate Special
by Michelle D. Kwasney

  • Publication Date: September 23, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • ISBN-10: 0811867803
  • ISBN-13: 9780811867801