I took a break from book reviews for a while, but I decided it was time. I've been reading a ton (thanks to Kindle Unlimited!) and I've been diving into Goodreads. This review originally appeared on Goodreads; you can follow my reviews & reads on Goodreads here. This review does contain spoilers, so if you have not read the Lauras yet, drop everything and go read it. Then read this review.
Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from NetGalley.
To sum up my feelings about this book in one word: wow.
I started this book with no preconceptions about it. I had heard of it, vaguely, but hadn't done any research on it whatsoever. When I requested it from NetGalley, I barely read the description.
Thus, I didn't really know what to expect. That's usually the best way to start a book: fresh.
The Lauras is a sweeping story, romantic in that way that it is invested in relationships, both small and big, and the ways in which our lives spread out from us, reverberating over and over again. It's about America, about choosing to live your life your own way. It's touching and frustrating, all at once.
I have to give Sara Taylor credit for portraying characters outside the binary: Alex, the main character, is genderless, preferring to exist as an either-or-neither. (For the sake of this review, I will refer to Alex by the singular "they" pronoun. Alex's mother, called Ma throughout the novel, will be referred to by the pronoun "she/her.") This is the first book I have read with such a character--one that is still vibrant and loving, sexual and full. Just not defined by a singular gender. I also appreciate that Alex's mother is attracted to both men and women, referenced multiple times throughout the book in the form of the Lauras, and that many periphery characters are portrayed as bisexual as well.
Alex's mother decides, one night, to leave her husband, Alex's father, and take Alex on a cross-country road trip to pay her debts, visit her old haunts, and generally tell Alex a little more about her life. In many ways, it is sweeping; in other ways, it is purposefully vague, featuring older Alex butting in as the narrator, pointing out times where they are not sure if they remember things correctly or purposefully hide things to avoid shame. It's a charming way to write a story, sure, but I found myself unfulfilled at the end for a few reasons (and perhaps that was the point after all--rarely in life are stories like this, stories where your mother wakes up in the middle of the night and drags you away from the life you've known, tied up neatly at the end).
Mostly, I just wanted to know that Alex was okay, that after such an uprooting they were able to make sense of their life. Did Alex become a reporter, a musician, a professional roadtripper?
Mainly, the concept of the Lauras is a little confusing, again, perhaps purposefully. Throughout her life, Ma met a variety of "Lauras" (whether they are all named Laura or she just renamed them "Laura" is up for debate, even to Ma and Alex), women that impacted her life in some way.In the end, they travel to Canada to meet one of the Lauras, the Laura that Ma wants to spend her life with. It's never made clear which Laura, described by Ma/Alex previously, it is, but I suspect it is the College-Laura. They all, ultimately, blur into one face, one name. Some are never revisited. Some, Ma dwells on.
The title suggests that the journey is about the Lauras, but really it's just about one Laura (the Laura in Canada, hinted at earlier in the novel through a map that Alex inspects). However, the most compelling parts of the journey are not related to the Lauras at all, or even tangentially. After they leave Florida (their first pitstop for a year to earn money), they travel to Mississippi, where Ma had worked one summer on a crab boat with her two friends, Anthony and Marisol. Marisol is one of the most vibrant characters in the books--one I wish that more time had been spent on. That summer is romantic and vibrant, sweaty and southern; I want to read more about it. But it's glossed over in favor of a water funeral, performed by Ma, at sunset.
Next, they travel through Texas, where their car loses a wheel, leaving them stranded, conveniently, in a town where another of Ma's college friends lives. This college friend, Mary-Margaret, was once a bisexual college girl who, after losing both her parents, got caught up in a strict, Christian cult (for lack of a better term) that reminds me of the Duggars. She has a horde of children, including a 17-year-old girl named Anne-Marie.
Ma and Alex help Anne-Marie escape before she can be married off to someone of her father's choice. This is one of the best parts of the novel--the anticlimactic moment where Ma helps Annie escape, leaves her with her older brother (who also, as children of cults tend to do, escaped), and then worries about her incessantly for the rest of the trip. I wanted to read more about Annie, about her life post-cult, but that's another book.
My point is, these compelling, interesting moments have nothing to do with Lauras. But maybe (maybe) Marisol is a Laura too. And maybe Annie is a Laura for Alex.
Like most good novels, this made me think. It made me sad. It made me not miss being 13, 14, 15 at all. It made me want to road trip around America, work in dingy bars and stay in cheap apartments--be a little dangerous. Excellent, compelling, and worth a read. Highly, highly recommended to anyone who loves a good road trip, reading gripping motherhood-based stories, and just loves good writing in general.
The Lauras is not available through Amazon at the moment, but the last time I checked, it's still available for a digital copy via NetGalley!