Friday, February 28, 2014

The Johnstown Girls


This book was provided through NetGallery in exchange for my honest opinion.

Ellen has spent almost a century restlessly seeking a lost life of possibilities. Nina wishes her life would stop wandering in so many different directions.

The Johnstown Girls follows the lives of three women, all born in Johnstown: Ellen, Anna, and Nina. Nina is a young journalist looking for a foundation on which to build her life, the right job (not simply a bit journalist), the right guy( her coworker who can't quite leave his wife or the heroic firefighter she met on the job), and the right place to call her own. For Ellen and Anna, the story is reflective, remembering a lifetime amid a world of rapid changes and devastating losses as forgotten memories start to resurface.

First off, the premise of The Johnstown Girls is a solid one.
The concept of a young survivor from a well-known tragedy, like the Johnstown flood, who holds on to the belief that her twin also survived and was brought up without knowledge of her original family is naturally intriguing and one I was particularly interested in given my experience in counselling and psychology. The usage of the centenarian's life to explore the changes in Johnstown and the Pennsylvania area over the years was also intelligent as Ellen came to life in the role of kindly grandmother. Ellen was a delightful character with her wit and lively portrayal and the highlight of what should have been a wonderful read blending history and fiction.

Sadly, the story fell flat for me.

I believe the reason this story failed to keep me interested (and, indeed, I almost gave up on the book a number of times) is a combination of factors.

The first issue I had with this novel was its structure. When balancing between past/present as well as numerous characters: Nina, Ben, Anna, Ellen, Rose, Julia, etc. . . There needs to be clear transitions from one character to the next. These were not present in the novel making the story hard to follow and lessening the impact of the overall text.

The second issue I had were the characters of Nina and Ben. I truly could not enjoy these characters and their relationship seemed more plot convenience and an attempt to be edgy/relevant than a true driving force to the story. While Nina made great strides in the final chapter, it was still not enough to redeem the character and make me feel for her. If anything, I felt like speeding up and rolling my eyes when I realized that another Ben and Nina section had arrived.
The early intimate scene between the characters felt out of place in the story and more like a cry for attention in an attempt to make a serious story "appear" adult.

Historical fiction is a genre that reignited my passion for reading, however, Kathleen George's The Johnstown Girls, won't be a novel I'll be picking up again.

2 out of 5 stars.