When I took a pre-reading peek at other reviews of All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner, I saw a repetitive comment– “It’s so unique to read historical fiction set during the Vietnam War years!” I won’t talk at length about this aspect of the book, then, since it’s been said before. However, having read a decent helping of historical fiction lately, it is refreshing to see a change from the very common settings of WWII or the American Civil War. The 1960s weren’t all that long ago, so I felt a closeness to the story– after all, it’s the world my mom and dad were born into, with my older aunts and uncles already slipping into bell bottoms and pedal pushers.
All Manner of Things is a coming of age story. Annie Jacobson is on the cusp of full-fledged womanhood, and the novel follows her as she navigates small town life on the edge of Chippewa Lake, Michigan. Already a mature and responsible young lady, she watches her brother enlist as an army medic; works a job as a waitress; and struggles to handle gracefully the return of her father, who abandoned her family twelve years prior. The characters in this book are so alive I still miss them, still see them, as if they were real– and I rarely give out that type of compliment because it can so easily become cliche and hollow.
If you love stories in the vein of Little Women or the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall (not to be confused with the Penderwick Chronicles), you’ll love this book. Hardly fast-paced, it takes its time, but every moment washes over you like a gold-tinged happy memory or a softly faded polaroid photo. It’s warm and genuine, but not saccharine, infused with everyday happenings and nods to 1960’s pop culture.
I listened to this in audiobook format (downloading it through the library app Hoopla) and I highly recommend you do the same if at all possible! The narration by Tavia Gilbert was among the best I’ve ever listened to. I finished the entire 10+ hours of narration in under a week, which is a record for me.
Perhaps the most important point I can make about Susie Finkbeiner’s work here is that I feel it rides a fine line between “Christian Fiction” and what I would classify as “wholesome reading.” Remember when you were a little kid doing English assignments in school? One of the principal parts of story-telling you learn is that every story has some sort of conflict, be it external (e.g. I need to defeat the ogre to save the beautiful princess) or internal (e.g. I must put aside my cowardly nature for the first time in my life to face the ogre) or both. This is just my opinion, but if a book’s conflict isn’t driven or influenced or affected in some way by the character’s faith, relationship with God, or the Bible– then the religious elements are more a part of the setting than the story. To some degree I think that’s the case with All Manner of Things; Christianity is a part of the characters’ lives in the sense that you see them talking to someone at church or praying at dinner (and that’s certainly a good thing, don’t misunderstand me.) I just wish God had been portrayed as a little more personal, more influential, instead of feeling like an afterthought. I wish more questions had found their answers in God’s Word.
Did I still enjoy the book? Absolutely! Wrapping up this post with a 4/5 star rating.
I would mention to fellow readers that may be concerned about euphemisms that there are many uses of them in this novel (for example, golly or gosh.)
Oops! …this post was accidentally published a week early in addition to the planned post. I am going to leave it up, but will make a few changes and edits as I had not finished “cleaning up” the post and fixing grammar errors, etc. Also, there will be no new post for next week. Thanks!