There's nothing quite like discovering a new favorite author. That feeling, just a few paragraphs into a book when you realize that your specific reading taste and something about the way that author writes, imagines, or explains, are completely in sync. The other night, when I read the first page of Tim Tharp's latest novel Badd, I had that realization.
His National Book Award-winning The Spectacular Now was one of my favorite books the year it was published. It, too, was one of those delightful surprises, a book I read only because it was nominated for the National Book Award. Somehow, it fell just under my radar. Well, that was not to happen with his new book. When I saw the galley at ALA Midwinter, I thought in a Liz Lemon-y way, "I want to go to there." Finally, I've had the chance to go to there, to sit down and enjoy this book
Okay, enough blabbering. To the book!
Ceejay is not a girly girl. She's stubborn and a little difficult, and she idolizes her older brother Bobby, who was, to put it frankly, a badass all through high school. It was his final act of badassery, though, that put him in the situation that would change his life. He stole a car, and the repercussion for him would be either jail or a joining the army. He chose the latter, unaware that it would involve actually going to Iraq.
Bobby is finally coming home, and Ceejay's anticipating a hero's welcome, followed up by (fingers crossed) the opportunity to move out of her parents' house and in with Bobby. But life is never that easy. The Bobby that returns home is not the Bobby that has left. He's depressed, he drinks too much and in a different way than before, and he's befriended the town weirdo, Captain Crazy.
While a central part of this book is Ceejay's growing understand of what happened to Bobby and why he has changed -- that they can't so easily go back to the way things were -- it is also so much about family and the connections people make with each other. Ceejay and Bobby have been at odds with their parents and siblings, but at least for Ceejay, that starts to change. Big family events bring them together in ways that allow Ceejay to get a different perspective on her younger sister and her mother. And maybe a family isn't just your mom and dad, and your siblings. Maybe family means taking care of someone else that you grow to know.
Tharp's latest book is so refreshingly honest. It is about real people -- they live in Oklahoma, they do not have a reality show, they are not vampires or werewolves. They have to work, they fight in wars, they get by. Bobby's story, when it finally comes out, is heartbreaking and unforgettable, just like this book.
If you read and enjoyed Dana Reinhardt's excellent The Things A Brother Knows, you must read this one. I have a feeling we'll be hearing much more about it. Clearly, I have a new favorite author.