Marlena by Julie Buntin: A Review

Buntin's Marlena is how a coming of age story is supposed to be told!  Fifteen-year-old Cat has moved to an economically depressed area with her mother and brother after her father leaves for a younger woman.  Her new next door neighbor is Marlena, a seventeen-year-old who lives in a barn with her younger brother and meth-cooking father.  Cat idolizes Marlena and aims to become friends with her, despite Marlena's drug abuse.  When everything spirals out of control for Marlena and she ends up drowned in one of the local bodies of water, Cat is left with problems of her own and a will to make things better for herself.

I decided to read Marlena after seeing that it was one of Book of the Month Club's March selections and I am so glad that I did.  I have been disappointed by coming of age stories before but I really enjoyed this one.  Some of the newer coming of age stories or New Adult fiction books out seem to glorify the drugs, alcohol and mental illness but Buntin did not do that, at all.  She was able to show drug abuse and the like as problems while remaining non-judgmental, at the same time.  

I really liked this quote from Cat, "I've never believed in the idea of an innocent bystander.  The act of watching changes what happens."  I have always believed that all of the people that we associate with shape us and we shape them.

Both Marlena and Cat are very relate-able characters, despite their shortcomings.  None of the characters are stereotypical and the focus was on just a couple of characters, making it easier to keep track of them.  The story could move a bit slowly, at times, but it was still a very compelling and moving story.  A lot of readers may be turned off by the fact that there were no surprises in this book, that one knows from the get-go what is going to happen, but I still felt that this was a really good example of a coming of age story and think that it would be good for any reader that enjoys those types of books.

Marlena was a March Book of the Month Club selection.  Subscribe to the Book of the Month Club by following this link.

Reviews of books like this one:
June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

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