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What a Trip
Edwards, Susen
The adult debut from Edwards (Doctor Whisper and Nurse Willow) offers a slice-of-life detailing the dilemmas faced by Fiona O’Brien as she transforms from a confused, timid teen into a young woman chasing her dreams in the tumultuous U.S. in the late 1960s. New Jersey art student Fiona embarks on a road trip escape to Florida with her best friend Melissa, who is recovering from a difficult abortion. Among other Miami Beach misadventures with poets and antiwar artists, the young women encounter a tarot card reader whose reading hooks Melissa first on tarot and then the occult in general, while Fiona, though enticed, resists as the result of her strict Methodist upbringing. Back at school, Fiona falls for Reuben Goldberg, a charmer who challenges her—he asks her what the “theme” of her life is—and plans to emigrate to Canada to avoid the draft.

Fiona loves Reuben but is undecided about following. The novel finds her finding herself, and Edwards’s telling of the story is simple and unadorned, often driven by dialogue, charting life as it comes rather than imposing sensation or plot upon it. While determinedly ordinary in many ways, these characters still challenge the norms of their times and sometimes ours, too, as when Reuben speaks of his teenage sexual relationship with his friend Jeremy’s mother as being consensual, despite the fact that he was only 14. This charged material, as well as developments involving experiments with the occult, complicate the narrative.

The conflicts arise from trying to forge a life and find a self in a time of such upheaval. Their talk and fears and conflicts—including discord between mother and daughter—are highly specific and yet in many ways also timeless, the hearts and minds of young people convincingly rendered, as they feel towards their own truths and tragedies in a nation verging on a crackup.

Takeaway: A coming-of-age slice-of-life in which a young woman finds herself in the turbulent 1960s.

Great for fans of: Eldonna Edwards’s Clover Blue, Jane Vandenburgh’s Failure to Zigzag .

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A