Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#14: The Burgess Boys (Elizabeth Strout)

on August 13, 2014

It’s always a good feeling when you are first introduced to an author and you simply know that you will have a long friendship through reading. Such was the case with Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Strout’s book, The Burgess Boys. The title refers to Bob and Jim Burgess, two New York City lawyers who left their rural Maine home as quickly as possible. Just as they are certain that they have left the past behind, they receive word that their nephew, Zack, is being charged with a hate crime after throwing a pig’s head into a mosque. Susan Burgess has remained in Maine and attempted to raise her teenage son alone. As the family reunites in Maine as a result of the crisis, each are forced to face the demons of their past and learn what it really means to be a family.

From the very beginning of the novel, I was enthralled. What starts as an apparent story about race relations proves to be something much deeper. As I attempted to narrow the book’s theme to a single topic, I found the idea of escapism to be woven throughout the story. The Burgess siblings are frantically attempting to escape the tragedy of their childhood. Zack attempts to escape the consequences of his actions. The Somali community (a major factor in the novel) are attempting to escape the oppression of their African homeland while striving to maintain their cultural identity in America. Other characters are running from failed marriages, undesired jobs, alcoholism, and prejudice. As you can see, Strout is not afraid to take on tough issues in her writing.

While The Burgess Boys is not intended to be a “feel good” book, I found myself becoming increasingly connected with each of the characters with each passing page. I rejoiced with them when the tide took a positive turn and cried with them as they dealt with hearts that were wounded long ago. I look forward to meeting the characters that populate Ms. Strout’s other novels in the very near future.

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