“The moment I learned about the power of place and the world beyond home, I was crouching on the cement curb in front of our house on Arbor Circle.”
From her earliest memories, all Stacy Halloran wanted was to explore the streets of her neighborhood, Arboria Park. Being able to go farther and farther as she grows older is the highlight of growing up, in her opinion.
“Being the youngest had some perks. The others had been allowed to wander around and nobody had died (not even Matt, the family “daredevil”), so I got the benefit of the doubt.”
Arboria Park follows the life of Stacy as she grows up. It isn’t simply that Stacy wants to expand where she can go, she also wants to know the history of the neighborhood. From walks with her father, she learns about the farmland that their houses were built on.
This book is a walk through her life. We see the neighborhood change as Stacy grows. There is a sense of watching the world progress, as each chapter takes us further into the future, even though we don’t see beyond the scope of the family. The effect is that we see how the world around Stacy and her family changes throughout the decades mainly through how it impacts them.
Wall gives us a rich look at how the decades changed not just physical landscapes but societal norms as well. She does a good job painting the broad spectrum of events and issues relevant to the time without straying too far from the family.
Stacy’s family is very diverse. “‘We’re a family of black sheep,’ Matt said.” Except, the only person in the family who viewed them that way was their mother. Adding in a very old-fashioned and rigid mother was a clever way for Wall to insert dialogue and more negative observations relevant to the time. This is important and necessary because not everyone adapted to these changes. Having the more rigid and negative tones made it more realistic and believable.
Wall uses the Halloran children as ways to explore these changing issues. We deal with premarital sex ending in pregnancy, divorce, interracial marriage with children to follow, and same sex relationships.
“I wish Mom were happy about this being a real family wedding instead of being so judgmental about who’s in the family.”
I liked the use of the Mother in this sense. She was able to voice concerns over the changing nature of the neighborhood, and how she disapproved of her children’s lifestyles and choices. It may be unpopular, but there were (and still are) many parents/grandparents that felt/feel this way. Since the siblings were close-knit, having the mother represent the disapproval was fitting and necessary.
This book is captures the overall feel of each decade, and the social struggles that went with them, without feeling bogged down in a historical lesson. Wall is able to give each sibling an identity that is relevant to their time, and does a nice job showcasing the disapproval that would have gone along with it. You get the very real sense of living in that time as you read.
Young Stacy is probably my favorite part of this book. She is sassy and funny in that innocent way that children are. I love when an author depicts adult situations through a child’s eyes and they just nail it! That happens here, and I laughed multiple times over the pages. Wall brought that little girl to life and she was a joy to read.
As Stacy gets older, her feisty confidence diminishes quite a bit, and while Wall does explore one reason, I did feel like there was an aspect of Stacy that remained unexplained. She drifts through her life, not really knowing what she wants to do, and I never felt like that was explained or resolved. Maybe that was the point.
To me, this book was less about saving the neighborhood, as the synopsis states, and more about life in a complicated family. The neighborhood is the setting, but the real plot is driven by the people living within it.
The Halloran family stays connected to Arboria Park, even when they move out of it. It remains a nostalgic place that reminds them of their childhood and is thought of as their home.
Woven into the book are chapters from the perspective of Autumn and Ruby, Stacy’s nieces. Wall uses these narrative changes as a way to show their own experience in the neighborhood. She also uses them as a way to learn more about Stacy without having to see the events through Stacy’s eyes. We are able to move forward in time, and also add in a more layered story, without losing momentum.
The author also uses music as a way to show change over the years. I enjoyed reading the parts of the book that explored the history of music and how different styles built on others to bloom into new and exciting musical genres. Again, it was done in such a way that it didn’t feel like a history lesson, but still felt rich and interesting.
There are a few pieces I wish the author had spent more time developing. I wish that the struggle to save the neighborhood had more emphasis. It felt like a very minor part of the plot. I also would have liked more with Edith and the farm land. She and the land are referred to throughout the book, but only make a brief appearance.
In all, this is a charming book about family. It is both an examination regarding the family we are born into and the family that we create. In the Halloran family, we see a family that isn’t perfect. They have a mother who cares more about what other people think than anything else. They face heartache, and struggle. Love and loss. We see them grow and find who they are. And throughout it all, they find that family is more than blood and home is more than a house.
Thank you BookSparks for sending me this book as part of their pop-up blog tours!