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The English American

September 15, 2008

A NovelI really wanted to love The English American for a couple reasons. First, if you check out the twenty something reviews on, they are all glowing. Second, the author Alison Larkin is one nice gal. After checking out her great website and realizing that she lives only a few towns away from me, I e-mailed her asking if she would grant me an interview. Not only did she e-mail me back right away, but was so enthusiastic about her book that she gave me her home phone number to chat !  Then there was the fact that the book was about an adult adoptee and as I’ve mentioned before, I love books (both fiction and non-fiction) about adoption. Lastly, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with an opening paragraph like this:

I think everyone should be adopted. That way, you can meet your birth parents when you’re old enough to cope with them. Of course it’s a bit of a lottery. You never know who you’re going to get as parents. I got lucky. Then again, if I’d been adopted by Mia Farrow, rather than Mum and Dad, today I could be married to Woody Allen.

Funny, right? In fact, The English American was full of funny moments, but that didn’t make up for the feeling I had that this book just wasn’t working for me. In the end, it just left me unsatisfied.

The book revolves around Pippa Dunn, an impulsive, clumsy, overly-sensitive British woman. She has an acute fear of rejection, most likely due to the fact that as an infant, Pippa was adopted from America by a British couple and was raised in England. She loves her parents and sister, but has always felt that something was missing. After having dreams about her birth Mother, Pippa decides to search for her long-lost American birth mother. This is how she meets the woman who gave birth to her, Billie, a talkative, recovering alcoholic who lives in the deep south. Pippa travels to Georgia to meet Billie, her deathly ill grandfather and his wife Mary Alice. What Pippa is searching for is peace of mind, but will she find it in the American South?

The biggest issue I had with The English American was the fact that other than the main character Pippa, I didn’t find any of the other characters likable. Now I’m usually not the type of person to needs to love each and every character in the books I read, but after a while I just became annoyed that I wasn’t connecting with any of the supporting characters. Sure they were a quirky bunch, but there was no emotional connection for me, therefore I didn’t really care about the plot. It also tending to be slow moving and not the page turner I was hoping for.

Also, maybe my timing was off a little bit. I’ve heard such great things about Jodi Picoult’s book Nineteen Minutes, but when I read it last year it took every ounce of my willpower to finish it. I just didn’t get it. I had read other Picoult novels before, but that one left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

In the end, I won’t be calling Ms. Larkin up on the phone, because what would I really say “Uh, didn’t much care for your book, but would you grant me an interview anyway?”




16 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2008 11:11 am

    It’s so frustrating when this happens. This sounds like such a promising premise and I enjoyed the snippet. The funny thing is, I did the same thing with a Picoult book. The connection just wasn’t there.

    I do think that timing when reading a book is everything. Where we are in life completely changes how we read books. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

  2. September 15, 2008 12:20 pm

    I’m sorry the book was disappointing. I haven’t read it so I really can’t say, but that one tidbit was pretty funny.

  3. September 15, 2008 12:21 pm

    Oh, and I probably wouldn’t call either if it was me.

  4. September 15, 2008 12:41 pm

    I haven’t read this but I HAVE read similar reviews. So I don’t think it’s just you.

  5. September 15, 2008 3:26 pm

    It’s good you’re being honest, since it’s kind of a “sticky wicket” when you read a book that you’ve agreed to review for the author. I’m always afraid of hurt feelings.

  6. September 15, 2008 4:00 pm

    I wonder if this would actually make for a really good interview. You could talk with the author about why the book didn’t work for you and she might be able to help you understand it. Also I think authors are always open to honest feedback. Always a shame when you are so keen on a book and it disappoints though.

  7. September 15, 2008 6:11 pm

    I hate it when you expect to love a book, but don’t end up liking it! I’m sad that you didn’t enjoy this one that much – I’ve had it for a long time and need to read it!

  8. Mona permalink
    September 15, 2008 7:32 pm

    I loved this book! I wonder if you just wanted to be different, because the other reviews are so glowing? I was really moved and it is SO FUNNY! My book club read it and we all thought it was the best book we’ve read in a really long time. I hope your review doesn’t put people off, particularly people in adoption, because it’s saying some really important stuff about the adoptees right to know and putting stuff that isn’t usually talked about out there in an accessible, really great way. I hope you don’t call the author of this book to be interviewed. If she’s anything like her heroine, I think she’d be hurt.

  9. September 15, 2008 7:45 pm

    Mona – I have to disagree with a few things you said in your comments.

    First, I am totally honest in all my book reviews and don’t try to be hurtful in any way. This blog is a way for me to express myself and my personal opinions of the books I read.

    Also, most authors are thick-skinned and know that not everyone is going to like their book. I don’t plan on calling Ms. Larkin, since it doesn’t seem to make much sense at this time, although I’m pretty sure that she takes all book reviews with a grain of salt.

    I’m glad you and your book group enjoyed English American. In the end, it just wasn’t my cup of tea!

  10. September 15, 2008 8:44 pm

    You crack me up. Good response to Mona! I totally agree with you.

  11. September 15, 2008 9:44 pm

    Thanks for your honest assessment of this book, Stephanie. I’ve eyed it a few times at work (love the cover!), but know not to get something simply based on it’s charming dust jacket.

    I, too, just reviewed a mediocre book. I didn’t have any expectations going into the read, so I wasn’t terribly disappointed. It just fell flat for me, but fortunately, didn’t take too long to read. Oh, it was The Namesake. Have you read it?

  12. September 15, 2008 10:05 pm

    Lesley – I must admit that sometimes I’m still drawn in like a marketing sucker for pretty dust jackets, although I try to use my library much more often these days.
    I haven’t read The Namesake but have heard good things about it. I can’t wait to see why you didn’t much care for it.

  13. September 16, 2008 2:36 pm

    Oh this sounded like it’d be a really cute book. I may still give it a go but probably won’t rush out to get it. I’m struggling with one book right now actually because I hate the characters. I don’t expect to always love the characters but I need to have some sort of connection with them.

  14. September 17, 2008 8:02 pm

    I discovered a while back that Amazon reviews almost never jibe with how I feel about books! Weird!

    Coincidentally, I just saw this book at the library and passed it up. I read one blog review and it just sounded so-so. So, you’re definitely not the first person to struggle with it. I know I’m in the minority, here, but I’m not a Jodi Picoult fan. I’ve read three of her titles and I can’t figure out why I keep giving her, “just one more chance.”

  15. Laura H permalink
    September 17, 2008 11:05 pm

    I read it too and felt the same way. I actually felt kind of sad. There was so funny parts but not enought that I would recommend this book to anyone.

  16. September 18, 2008 8:11 am

    Hey S! I think you should still call the author and do the interview. It may be a bit more challenging for you than if you did like it but take advantage of the fact that this woman lives so close and has been so generous with you. I don’t think she’ll mind too much that you found disappointment with her book. She may actually like to hear that over all the praise she may be hearing at all other moments.

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