I’ve been happily making my way through best-selling author Anna Quindlen’s works after coming across Miller’s Valley a few years ago. Object Lessons was this author’s first book.
Object Lessons has the same quiet, gentle style that I recognised from this author’s other books, with strong and likeable female characters.
The main character of Object Lessons is thirteen-year old Maggie Scanlan, who has to come to terms with changes within her family, her neighbourhood and her friendship group over the course of a summer, finding the strength of character to stand up to peer pressure in her group of friends and against her bullying older cousin. A turning moment for Maggie is learning that her parents are people as well as her parents.
Maggie is the child of an Italian mother, Connie and an Irish father, Tommy, who met and fell in love, then married very quickly after Connie became pregnant with Maggie. Tommy’s family is ruled by his father, John Scanlan, a successful businessman who keeps everyone in the family in line with his forceful personality and his money. Tommy is the only one to have escaped his father slightly, having married Connie, bought the house of his choice and running his own business, although that business was funded by John Scanlan.
Connie is also a strong character. Connie is pregnant and has her own issues to deal with, having lost touch emotionally with Tommy and feeling attracted to a man who she knew as a teenager. Sitting beneath everything else is Connie’s isolation within Tommy’s overtly racist family.
Object Lessons is set during the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, a time of great social change. Pregnant women weren’t frowned on for smoking or getting drunk, but not wearing a hat to church was a scandal. A young female character left home to share a flat with a friend and have boyfriends stay overnight (which her parents would never have suspected unless she were to fall pregnant). Seeing these times through Maggie’s eyes was fascinating.
The plot of Object Lessons was perhaps a little messier than Anna Quindlen’s later books, but it was still enjoyable and I look forward to making my way through her other books.