What is a family defined by: blood, love, proximity? This is the central question of Jan English Leary’s first novel Thicker Than Blood.
The book mainly follows Andrea and her daughter Pearl from the time Andrea adopts Pearl through Pearl growing into young adulthood. Issues of race, discrimination, and acceptance also come to the forefront of the novel in record time as Andrea struggles with the difficulties of raising an African American daughter in Chicago, an already racially charged environment. In tandem with the above themes, those of expectation, self-worth and self-confidence also play a central role in the thematic make up of Thicker Than Blood.
At first the reader accompanies Andrea as she struggles to be a confident and successful single mother, but the novel quickly hops to other character’s heads giving differing perspectives on the difficult situations at hand. We see what life is like from Pearl’s point of view, from Andrea’s boyfriend Mike’s point of view, from Andrea’s mother Nancy’s point of view, as well as from other minor characters. Though this sort of head hopping can often jar a novel and its reader out of the flow of the story, Leary does it in such a thorough and uncomplicated way that there are never any questions as to whose head we are in, or why we are there. Every character’s perspective adds weight and value to the central themes of the novel in ways that would be otherwise inaccessible.
We come to understand what the issues of family, race and self-confidence mean for Andrea, Pearl and Nancy as we discover secrets about them that even they don’t know about one another. Gaining access to the deepest darkest parts of their pasts, the reader is able to sympathize and interact with these characters in a way that the characters themselves are not able to do with one another. In turn, the characters are strengthened and we become more invested in their imperfect and disjointed lives.
A beautiful and moving piece that explores questions relevant to every human being, Thicker Than Blood is a momentous novel. Leary has done a brilliant job of gathering universal themes and holding them up for the reader to observe and judge for herself. An excellent first novel, Leary’s Thicker Than Blood will be released by Fomite on October 20, 2015.
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FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.
One thought on “‘Thicker Than Blood’ by Jan English Leary”
Thank you so much, Jaclyn, for this review. I appreciate that you saw in the novel things I’d hoped to get across. Jan Leary