Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Grave of God's Daughter by Brett Ellen Block

There's a certain joy in reading a book that all your blogger friends love and loving it, too.  I do it with some frequency, and it's always awesome having your faith in all your most trusted blogger brethren affirmed.  There is another joy, however, and that is discovering a great backlist book that it seems that none of your blogger friends, or really any blogger that you can find has reviewed.  It's a bizarre and rare sensation to enjoy a book that seems to have elicited no blogger attention.  I mean, jeez, book bloggers as a collective entity read a ton of books both new and old, so in my insular little world, it seems that there must be at least one blogger out there that has read each worthy book, however incredibly ludicrous that thought might be what with there only being so many bloggers, and book blogging becoming popular only lately.

Fear not, I am coming to a point.  Any moment now.  Wait for it.  Waaiiit for it....

So, I had this book on my shelf that I'm pretty sure I didn't even buy.  I think my well-intentioned parents (yay for well-intentioned parents!) attended a book sale that I couldn't make it to, and plucked this trade paperback from obscurity.  It then landed on my shelf thus re-attaining its obscurity for any number of years, which I hesitate to even surmise.  After which, one February day in 2013, LibraryThing and delivered into my hands a, "I can't choose, oh just surprise me," read, and thus I stumbled (again) upon The Grave of God's Daughter by Brett Ellen Block, which I read and loved and am happy to introduce to the blogosphere.  Ahem, there will be no need to link up your post where you rave about the awesomeness of this book, thus proving me wrong and raining on my parade.  Okay, you can, but I won't know whether to be excited or mad at you, so you might be taking your chances.  Hopefully (?) nobody is now struggling with this quandary, and you're all just like, "Shut it Megan, and start talking about the actual book!"

The Grave of God's Daughter begins with a woman returning to her hometown for her mother's funeral and remembering her girlhood in Hyde Bend, a factory town nestled in the Allegheny mountains.  Most of the town's residents are Polish immigrants who use their language to blockade the town from outsiders.  The families in the town, most of the all the narrator's, live hardscrabble lives, eking out a living working either in the town's steel mill or its chemical plant, and faithfully attending Mass at Saint Ladislaus church.  It's the type of small town where everybody seems to know everyone else's business, but secrets still run deep.

Times are especially hard for the young narrator's family, so hard that her mother has fallen to pawning their meager belongings while her father drinks his paycheck at the town's one tavern.  Determined to buy back one of her mother's most prized possession, the girl secretly gets a job delivering packages for the local butcher.  Through the job and the momentous events of that year, the girl is startled to discover a deep well of secrets lurking beneath the surface of the town, not the least of which involves her own family.

I was actually, for some reason, staggered by how much I enjoyed this book.  Whenever I was forced to put it down, I found myself saying to myself in surprised awe, "I really like this book." The Grave of God's Daughter is a different kind of page-turner.  Usually when I find myself referring to a book as a page-turner it's because it's a very plot-heavy, action packed, thrill-a-minute sort of read, but I'd hesitate to describe The Grave of God's Daughter as such.  Rather, it is so well-crafted and well-paced with such a supremely engaging narrator that it's hard to put down. In fact, I was so caught up in the narrator's tale, in her breathing life into her hometown and the mystery of it as it intertwined with her own life, that it took me nearly two thirds of the book to realize that said narrator is never actually given a name. 

Block expertly brings to life the hardscrabble life of her unnamed narrator. She shares a bed with her brother in a house with three rooms, is frightened of the old lady down the street, discovers a dogfighting operation while posing as a boy to make the butcher's deliveries, has the profoundly guilty conscience of a Catholic schoolgirl, and sincerely believes that when she started lying, she set into motion this momentous time of her life when all the lies of a family and a town are beginning to be revealed to her.  The Grave of God's Daughter is a profound coming of age tale set in a unique place with absolutely vivid characters that I would recommend to anybody who doesn't mind a bit of darker story and discovering a diamond in the rough.


  1. Oh, how I love immigrant stories. This sounds outstanding!

  2. This book sounds like it needs to be on my tbr list. Aren't book bloggers amazing?

  3. Wow this sounds good - I am going to look for this one.