Title: All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg
Genre: Historical (70s), Women’s Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
An intricately crafted story of madness, magic and misfortune across three generations from the author of The Middle of Somewhere and House Broken…
Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.
But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.
An exploration of the power of courage and love to overcome a damning legacy, All the Best People celebrates the search for identity and grace in the most ordinary lives.
CONVERSATION GUIDE INCLUDED
Written from four distinct perspectives and weaving back and forth in time, All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg is an engaging novel about mental illness and to a lesser extent, social injustice between the wealthy and poor.
In 1972, Carole Gifford La Porte is a mother of three who works with her husband Walt in the family’s car repair business. When she begins forgetting things and hearing voices, she is quick to assume her recent insomnia is responsible for her mind playing tricks on her. However, she cannot ignore her family’s history of mental illness since her own mother, Solange, has been a permanent resident of the Underhill State Hospital ever since her father had her committed thirty-four years earlier. As Carole’s condition worsens, she continues hiding her symptoms from her family and she begins growing paranoid and fearful of those around her.
Carole and Walt’s eleven year old daughter Alison is becoming increasingly frustrated by her mother’s bizarre behavior. She is also quite upset by her mom’s refusal to help with the normal preparations for the upcoming school year. When her attempts to bring her mom’s strange actions to her father’s attention do not yield results, Alison tries casting spells and other supernatural phenomena to try to help her mother.
Thirty four year old Janine is nothing like her older sister Carole. Her birth is the catalyst for their father to commit their mother to the state hospital and Carole is the only maternal figure in her life. Janine is incredibly self-absorbed and she will go to any lengths to try to get her way.& Her actions throughout the story are extremely self centered and her final efforts to snag a husband go horribly wrong.
The middle part of the story centers on Solange and her marriage. Solange meets and marries her wealthy husband back in the 1920s and at first the differences in their family’s socioeconomic status makes no difference in their lives. Solange is initially content to view the world through her husband’s eyes but as she witnesses her poverty stricken family struggle to survive during the Depression, she begins forming her own opinions on the division between the classes. Her once happy marriage begins to flounder and in a moment of anger, Solange makes an ill-fated choice that will reverberate for generations.
The premise of All the Best People is quite unique and the historical elements are fascinating. However, Carole’s worsening mental health symptoms become repetitive and somewhat annoying. While it is initially plausible that she successfully conceals her symptoms from her immediate family, there comes point when it is impossible to believe that Walt and their sons do not become more concerned about her increasingly strange behavior.
All the Best People is a well-researched novel that touches on some very relevant social issues. The portions of the storyline which focus on the Solange’s history and Carole’s attempts to hide her symptoms from her family are gripping but Janine’s ridiculous attempts to snare a husband are, for the most part, an unnecessary distraction. Sonja Yoerg does an outstanding job educating readers on classism and the horrifying mental health practices that are thankfully no longer used. Overall, it is an interesting read that is quite informative.