I just finished a book by Jane Hamilton entitled When Madeline was Young. It’s about how crazy accidents alter life, about family rivalries and how very ordinary, undramatic incidents lead to severing ties. I’m not sure that it would interest someone in high school (although I enjoyed it), and I always feel guilty when I read a book that I can’t use, in some way, for work. The ‘work’ benefit of this new novel of Hamilton’s is to remind me of another of her books that would make a great read for COHS students.
A Map of the World is aptly titled. It’s about how one finds one’s way in the world—which is not always safe and never predictable. The story begins serenely enough with farmwife Alice Goodwin reflecting on her life as she searches for a bathing suit. She plans to take her own two girls and the two girls of a friend swimming in the farm’s pond. For a few minutes, she daydreams over a ‘map of the world’ she created as a child. Her mother had died when she was eight, and she fantasized a safe place. In the minutes that she searches and daydreams, her friend’s two-year-old makes her way out to the pond and drowns. In an instant, Alice’s world is shattered, and she is undone with guilt. More devastation follows as a local mother unjustly accuses Alice of abusing her child. Without the money for bail, Alice goes to jail while awaiting trial. Living on the last farm in a growing suburban area, she is seen as an outsider. She seems to have no allies. What Alice learns in jail, what she perceives about friendship and marriage are the kinds of insights all writers would love to explore in their fiction. This writing is beautiful, the story engaging. Although A Map of the World is about adults, the theme of making one’s way in the world is important in teen life. At 389 pages, it’ll take you a long way toward that 800 page per quarter marker—and quickly because you’ll want to finish it in one sitting. I honestly think you’ll love it.