The Lauras

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Nov 2017

Member Reviews

Ma bustles twelve-year-old Alex out of bed in the middle of the night, grabs a backpack always waiting by the front door, and Alex doesn't return "home" for nearly four years. And "home" is what Sara Taylor's novel The Lauras is all about. Is "home" the birthplace our parents choose for us? Is it the resting place we long for--even though we haven't yet arrived? Maybe our only true home is our body--and how we live comfortably or restlessly within its flesh. Taylor would have us believe that we'll never truly feel at home on this earth until we answer some of those questions.

Alex knows the home her parents have kept together for her is anything but happy. But it's all she's known and she feels its pull even as the two of them crisscross the country. Her mother is on a journey to make sense of the people and places that shaped her: a foster home, a college friend, a lover. She exacts retribution in some cases. So they live on the savings Ma has bankrolled--sometimes home is a motel or a dingy efficiency. Sometimes it's the backseat of the car or sleeping rough along a county road. Family meals are sometimes forgotten or come from a vending machine. Once or twice the two stop so Alex can attend school, and Ma can add to that bankroll. But she's pushing, always pushing toward home.

Along the way Alex learns about Ma's life through a series of stories about Lauras: the crazy one in the foster home, the one from Catholic school, the delinquent Laura, the Laura she fell in love with in college. And Alex learns that life is as much a series of missteps and heartache as it is success and delight. As a coming-of-age story, The Lauras works well.

But where the novel soars is in Taylor's examination of how we human beings come to feel at home in our bodies. And Alex isn't. Most reviewers I read label Alex transgender, which I think it inaccurate. Alex, at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, is simply Alex. The Alex not ready to commit to a gender, but becoming more and more comfortable with their body. You can see what I did there, using that pronoun--and I did admit so clumsily. Taylor wrote her novel never revealing Alex's birth sex--and not clumsily like I did. And in employing that device, Taylor humanized Alex's experience in a way that simply identifying a character as 'transgender' never could. Alex is Every Man Human. And because gender is a social construction, if I remember by Psych 101 correctly, how Alex chooses to relate to the world is self-determined.

I've reviewed a number of novels that play with the idea of gender--Middlesex, Neverhome, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Lobdell, Misfortune--and I wrote about them here. They were all compelling reads and approached the idea of gender roles with caution. But none of the writers did a better job of emphasizing a transgender character's humanity than Sara Taylor did in this very raw and tender story.
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When Alex is woken up in the middle of the night to run away with their mother, Alex believes it’s only for a short time until the anger diffuses and their parents become on speaking terms again. The time stretches as the road does and Alex learns more and more about her/his/their (collective pronoun used throughout) mother as Alex slowly starts learning more about themselves.

The Lauras is a multi-layered reading beauty that you can’t put easily into words, because you’re too preoccupied reading until the small hours of the night. The prose is flowing and carries you away on Alex and her Ma’s journey, eager to know their destination and at the same time not in a rush as the words blend and you forget about where you were going.
To say that Sara Taylor is talented would be an underestimation, she crafts intricate protagonists that makes you struggle to predict their moves. They manage to surprise you.

It’s Alex’s coming-of-age journey that shapes the person they are now, but it’s also Glory’s tie-the-loose-ends quest where she finds closure, shuts some doors of the past forever and inevitably opens others. You can see the scope of their relationship and see it grow, the trip brings them closer together and forces them to realise that they are a reflection of one another. Alex has to accept their mother’s decisions of the present and the past, but also has to come in terms with who they want to be.

The Lauras in the novel serve as reminders of the past, the secrets and memories kept. They might be the focus of their journey, but they are not the driving force behind it.

I have kindly received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and Crown Publishing Hogarth in exchange of a fair review.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Grows on a person, on reflection, brilliant, August 1, 2017
By Maggie
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This review is from: The Lauras: A Novel (Hardcover)
This book kind of grows on a person. This long road trip is a voyage of discovery and memory for the mother and adolescent Alex, with nuanced characters and issues of sexuality. I am still not sure what gender to assign to Alex (and perhaps neither is Alex), but this fact, like many others in the book, emerged in a slow but enticing fashion. I wasn't as keen on Sara Taylor's previous novel, The Shore; although I really enjoy her writing style, I found The Shore's timeline confusing. But, upon finishing this book, The Lauras, I consider it brilliant.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the loan of a time-constrained e-ARC, with no obligations.
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{My Thoughts}

What Worked For Me
Opening Quote – Everyone has to know and love the quote Taylor started The Lauras with. I was laughing out loud.

“Don’t make me turn this car around.”     Mom

One Badass Mom – Ma (we never know her name) proved to be one of the most interesting mothers I’ve read in a long time. I liked her very much and disliked her almost as much. Ma had a difficult childhood, living in and out of foster care, and leaving home for good at 17. Her child, Alex, knew virtually nothing about Ma’s past until Ma embarked with Alex on a years long road trip. Along the way Ma shared bits of her past including the five Lauras who helped to shape the woman Ma became. And what sort of woman was that? One both tough and determined. On the quest to tie up loose ends, Ma also burns down a house, punches a man, later holds him at gunpoint, and kidnaps a friend’s child. But, through it all, the one thing that was unwavering for Ma was her love for Alex.

“I fumbled out my latchkey, leaned into the door, and was dragged off my feet and into the room by my mother’s grasping hands. I saw her white, terrified face for a moment before she crushed me to her chest so tightly that I couldn’t breathe.”

An Androgynous Narrator – When I started The Lauras I just assumed Alex was a girl. As I got further into the story, I realized that I assigned the female gender. In reality we don’t know because Alex struggles with gender throughout the story. Strangers around Alex were consumed with assigning a gender, amplifying Alex’s feelings of not belonging and confusion.

“I suppose I was forgettable, came across still as whichever gender a person expected to see, and I was thankful for it even as I worried that this was the last year I’d be able to skate by so easily, that eventually someone would make an issue of my careful androgyny and I’d have to choose my side in the war, make up my mind as to where my allegiance lay, whether I identified more with my mother or my father.”

That pull Alex felt between mother and father extend to far more than gender. Throughout the road trip, Alex longed to see his/her father again.

Beautiful Writing – I found Sara Taylors writing to be beautiful and insightful. Her descriptions were often stunning and always spot on.

“I had to admit, Californians looked…not prettier, really, but healthier, like they’d been fed good food and beat up less by life than the people I’d grown up around, like they exercised on purpose instead of working themselves into the ground.”

What Didn’t
One Selfish Mom – Though I liked so much about Ma, she also infuriated me. I struggled with the reality of taking a 13-year old child out of bed in the middle of the night for reasons totally unknown. So often on the journey Alex was in the dark as to what they were doing and was often left to more or less fend for him/herself. Ma had her reasons, but I’m still not convinced that the end justified the means. The journey was for Ma, not Alex.

Tangents – Most of what happened on the trip served to illuminte Ma’s life, but there were a few side stories along the way that just didn’t seem to fit in. They felt a little like filler to me.

{The Final Assessment}

In the end, I liked The Lauras very much for what it truly was: a coming-of-age story. Ma’s life drove the road trip, but Alex’s evolution along the way was the more subtle heart of this story, and the reason to read this book. I think Taylor was brave to choose an androgynous teen as her hero(ine), and I’m pleased to say it really worked. Alex is a character that will be difficult for me to forget. Grade: B

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review.
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The Lauras by Sara Taylor is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late July.

Alex's mother has quite a history - a history written figuratively and literally (on a road atlas) all over the US after running away from her Italian immigrant parents and meeting a series of 'Lauras' or beta-level female friends that temporarily change the course of her storied, wandering life. Even after giving birth to Alex (who is trying to come to terms with their gender and who they're attracted to), her wandering doesn't cease until she comes to terms with certain places and certain people, and finds her true destination after travelling through the south, southwest, Pacific coast, and into Canada - her favorite Laura.
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A road movie of a novel, as gender nonspecific Alex and mother zigzag across the USA, picking up and tying loose ends from Ma's problem childhood and early adulthood. The Lauras are the women she met, whose identities blur as the narrative crisscrosses in time but sometimes duplicates in mood and events. Meanwhile Alex's struggle with sexuality and identity both intrigue and exasperate. Yet there's emotional power to the  moods and feelings. A promising writer.
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This was a difficult review to write in some ways. The main character, Alex is a transgender teen and we never know, even by the end of the book, whether Alex is a boy or a girl, so I can't refer to Alex as he or she so I will say he/she. Actually it really didn't matter because Alex is a person I came to care about exactly as Alex was. But the hard part really was deciding on a rating. I had a problem with the parental judgement of Alex's mother, Ma, who rouses Alex out of bed one night, leaving her husband and Alex's father to go on a road trip from state to state and into Canada over several years. It was disturbing to me  not knowing why the mother left Alex's father and not knowing what this pilgrimage of sorts was about. I wondered at times if Ma considered the impact of this vagabond life  on Alex as she confronted the demons of her past, paying her debts, keeping her promises. Alex is the narrator, who as an adult tells how 30 years ago he/she left West Virginia in the middle of the night with Ma. On the road it's the mother's journey through her past , but slowly it becomes Alex's journey as well, seeking a future, an identity, enduring brutal bullying at times and a thing no child should suffer through. 

It was hard to read at times knowing Alex's loneliness as they move from place to place, living in crummy little apartments. However, I couldn't help but be broken hearted when we learn of Ma's past . She had parents who didn't know how to parent and she was in and out of foster care. Yes, there are a number of Lauras in her life, some of whom we meet and a few other people we wish she hadn't met. I couldn't help but feel for her and I never questioned her love for Alex as he/she never did. So I couldn't let a decision I didn't agree with affect my rating because there is so much ground covered here and no pun is intended. There are some sad moments and some that are horrifying, but there are poignant moments seeing some things that Alex learns along the way. I loved Alex's concern for his/her father and the postcards that are sent along the way to let his/her father know that things are okay. 

This book is not as gritty as Sara Taylor's collection of stories, The Shore, but this definitely has an edge to it . I found here writing that drew me in as it did in the short stories. It's a coming of age story, a story of redemption and one that reflects the love of a mother for her child and one that delves into the core of people's identities and where they belong. I ended up loving this story. 

I received an advanced copy of this book from Crown Publishing through NetGalley.
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I couldn't get into this book. It began promising, but then quickly faded into boredom as the main character and her mother drift from state to state. I just could not get the gist of this story. It's about wandering and searching, for what I don't have a clue.
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Did not finish. Not my kind of book. Moved a little too slow.
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This was beautifully written and a really great story that I couldn't put down. I read 80% of this book in one afternoon and only stopped because I couldn't keep my eyes open. When I woke up the next morning I immediately picked it up and finished it. It's just that good! The author is such a incredible writer and this bittersweet coming of age tale was perfect for a lazy Sunday read. I dove into this story like a cool river on a hot day.

I loved delving into Alex's exploration of gender and identity and their refusal to pick a gender and the struggles that provokes with classmates and people in general who don't seem to know how to act round them. I'm using what I believe are the most common pronouns (they, them) to describe a non gendered person but let me know if I'm wrong. Alex doesn't believe that biological sex or gender should define them and alternates between using the boys and girls washrooms at school. When we take gender out of the equation we get open and honest access to a really fascinating character, and they are right, gender doesn't matter at all to their story.

Alex's relationship with their slightly crazy but kick-ass mother is central to this book and Ma reveals little bits about her history as the road trip goes on, but never seems to spill the whole story. She's had a complex life packed full of experiences, both good and bad. Both Alex and Ma have good hearts and obviously lots of love for each other but they are far from a perfect mother/child relationship. The interaction between these two characters is really the soul of this story and it's one that is touching, infuriating, heartbreaking and heartwarming all in one.

Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
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I'm sorry. I tried and tried to finish this book. I would pick it up and read a few chapters but then had to put it down because it was so gloomy. I thought I would enjoy this story about a young teenager on a road trip with mom learning about the mothers life through their stops. But it is a depressing picture and so far didn't find anything redeeming.  The writing is exceptional. But I just couldn't get past the half way point.
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One of my favorite reads this year.  I loved The Shore and have been looking forward to Ms. Taylor's next book, and really, was hooked with the quote in the front of the book:  "Don't make me turn this car around" by Mom.  As with The Shore, The Lauras is a tightly written, compelling story of family relationships.   I was initially distracted by the references to Alex's gender, and felt a gap of knowledge about the family relationships before the road trip, but this became less of an issue as their story progressed. There are so many versions of families in our world today and Ms. Taylor does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of those that are not normally written about (either in fiction or non-fiction works).

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read The Lauras.
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I always love a good road trip book. Alex's mother and Alex take off in the middle of the night to settle some problems from the past. Alex was definitely my favorite character. Alex is an awkward teen who is a loner but curious about other teens. We never find out the gender of Alex which added an interesting plot device for Alex. On the road trip, Alex's mom talks about her past and the struggles she faced growing up. In each story, there are different women that have influenced her life. She calls them all Laura. This story kept me engaged because I liked visiting all the places Alex and her mom visited and trying to piece together how Alex's mom past and all the Lauras were going to lead to the conclusion of the story. My reasoning for the four stars instead of five is that I feel like there could have been more. I feel there were a few things left unanswered and I would have liked a bit more character development. Other than that, this book is a fun and easy read that made me want to hop in the car and see the country.
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Alex's mother takes Alex on a road trip over two years or more. She is getting away from an unsatisfactory marriage and takes Alex for a ride. The title Lauras represent people in Alex's mother's life, some of whose name was actually Laura, others not. The mother revisits places and people who had either a positive or negative impact in her life. They are cris crossing the country, stopping for a while a few times to get a job to earn some money, just staying a day or two at other places. They sleep in the car, stay at cheap motels or camp out. Alex is 13 years old when this trip starts and around 15 at the end. This is a critical time in a teenager's life, coming to terms with their sexuality, growing up, trying to become an adult. I had a huge issue of Alex not being able to decide if she/he wants to be a boy or girl and the reader never finds out if she is one or the other. There was no background at all, what initiated this uncertainty or how it was dealt with before the trip. I also found Alex's mom highly irresponsible, by taking Alex on this ride without too much thought given to her education, schooling or his/ her relationship with her Dad. There are a few attempts for her to go to school or be tutored at places where they stay longer, but there was no consistency. I also didn't understand that at times they didn't even have money for a proper meal, other times there was money available. Overall, a disappointing read.
I got this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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“It doesn’t do any good to just run away from something, you’ve got to be running to something.”

Alex’s mom has been hit one time too many by Alex’s dad, and she wakes Alex up and says to get a few things together and get in the car. They’re out of there. The rest of the story is an odyssey, both externally and internally, and within it, Alex comes of age. The story is beautifully crafted with gritty, nearly-tangible settings; however, it is the meticulous, absolutely believable characters that makes this story sing. It is the first outstanding work of fiction I’ve seen that features a transgender teen, and like so much great fiction, it provides an education to those of us that haven’t known anyone that claims this identity. In fact, this book may become the Rubyfruit Jungle for trans people and those that care about them. I read this novel free and early, thanks to Net Galley and Crown Publishing; it’s available to the public August 1, 2017.

Feminists have to cheer for Alex’s mother, who Alex calls “Ma”. Ma has a car, she has maps, she has some food, and she has Alex. When a state trooper pulls her over because both she and her car have been reported missing by Alex’s father, Ma tells him point blank that the car is in her name, and that Alex is hers, not theirs. No, she doesn’t need to come with him. No, she doesn’t have to make a phone call. It wouldn’t always play out this way for everyone, of course, but just seeing it work once, right here, is satisfying and it’s credible. In fact, there’s never a hole in the plausibility of this story, even though the events that unfold here are far from ordinary. 

This trip, one that initially has a destination but turns into a wandering trek all across North America, gives Alex the first real taste of learning who Ma is. Any parent that has raised a teenager and has had a car understands the value of car talk. Both driver and passenger look straight ahead, and then sometimes things just naturally fall out of their mouths that otherwise would remain unsaid. Not having the money to keep a smart phone alive facilitates this even more; when there’s nothing else to look at, the choices are talk; silence; and sleep. 

And so Alex learns that Ma was raised largely in foster care, and the road trip provides a chance to trace back the string, to see the places life bounced her in and out of through adult eyes. Essentially, they are homeless much of the time, sleeping in the car, in the occasional down-at-the-heels motel, and every now and then alighting long enough to procure an apartment, though never the sort you’d want unless you were desperate. Sometimes she works; sometimes they steal; sometimes they are given a handout; still, they survive, and the trek goes on. And we see the disastrous failure of the public school system to accommodate a kid like Alex, who is expected to check either the male box on the enrollment form, or the female box, and whose refusal to do so is treated as a behavioral issue. 

There are times in my notes when I find myself referring to Alex as “she”, and it shows how ingrained our social system is, particularly for those of us that are older and have to work harder to think flexibly. At times I feel the same urge as those obnoxious school children Alex encounters in the story that want to know exactly what reproductive organ is inside Alex’s pants, because when I was growing up, that was how we identified gender. But as I watched Alex’s character take form within Taylor’s deep, intimate prose, I found that knowing Alex as Alex was enough. We never learn what’s between Alex’s legs, and by the end of the book, it no longer matters. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself. 

As for Alex’s future, it’s a conundrum. What Alex wants most is for Ma to point the car toward home, toward Dad. Oh, please please please. It’s the refrain of children the world over whose parents have split, children clinging to the illusion that if they are all reunited, everything will be fine. Oh, of course it will! And we know early in the story that this will never happen, and we don’t want Ma to go back there. But Alex wants Ma, and Alex wants Dad. And this is a quandary that many readers will recognize as their own childhood longing. 

One last word here is directed at teachers and parents. The literacy level here will be accessible to high school age students; however, there are sexual situations—as well as a sexual assault—and a lot of very profane language. If you wonder whether you want to put it on your shelf at school or home, get a copy and read it yourself first. I would have chosen to offer it to my own children when they were teens—they are grown now—but every family is different, and schools also have such a wide range of standards that you’re better off using your own judgment. 

That said, this pivotal novel is highly recommended.
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I have a summer assignment of tutoring a group of teenage girls from a local high school. I am so excited to introduce "The Laura's" to this group of girls. I hope that by reading this book and meeting these colorful characters, they are drawn in and hopefully find a new love of reading.
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The Lauras is the story of a mother and child who pick up and leave everything. The narrator is Alex. Alex is a teenager who does not identify as male or female and is struggling with the woes of puberty. Alex's mother is a wandering soul who was the child of immigrants who basically couldn't get their crap together long enough to raise her. In the story Alex finds out more about mother and the events in mother's teenage years, punctuated with a plethora of important people named Laura. 

The positive: Taylor is very good at description. Seemingly accepting parents that allow their child to grow into their own without judgement. 

The negative: I felt like that was most of the book. Description. I wanted to like this story. I wanted to like the characters. Unfortunately, it feel flat for me. I never really connected to Alex and I never got the page turning motivation. I felt almost like there was no direction in the book and had a hard time finishing it. It's not my kind of read but I'm sure there are plenty others out there who will enjoy settling in for a meandering trip with the two characters.
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Thank you NetGalley for this ARC!
Having read The Shore by Sarah Taylor I was intrigued by her new book The Laura's.
The main character, 13 year old Alex, we never find out if Alex is a boy or girl, is woken up by her mother and they take off on a cross country trip, leaving the father behind.
Alex's mother tells her stories about the Lauras in her life as a way of explaining why they are on the road trip.
The Lauras kept me interested and slightly annoyed at the same time.  It was hard to put down.
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I thought parts of this book were great, but it sort of dragged on for me at times - I wasn't super engaged in the story.
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