[Juska] strikes a cozy tone that is the literary opposite of toxic masculinity…In our age of political rancor and tweet storms befitting our state of emergency, there is something radical about a take on the gun problem that concerns itself more with raising questions than ire.
In elegant, gripping prose, If We Had Known offers a startling and empathetic look at the humanity behind the all-too-frequent headlines. Juska has produced that rarest and best kind of literature—a page-turner with a message and a heart.
A tender, whip-smart meditation on the origins and aftermath of tragedy. Here, Juska asks us an important and quietly devastating question: in what ways are we responsible to and for each other?
Juska's story nests in a thicket of current issues: social media, gun violence, teenage anxiety and anorexia, and the responsibility of academics with regard to troubled students. Well-written, realistic, and suspenseful to the point of dread.
What a gripping and wise book this is. Elise Juska's unparalleled ability to convey how a single tragic event reaches out to change the lives of many is on full and compelling display here. I love when I read a book like If We Had Known and discover my next go-to gift for all my favorite readers.
Juska explores the aftermath of a violent event in a story that successfully speaks to issues of gun violence, the rise of anxiety in young people, the use and abuse of social media, and the role of educators today, capturing human vulnerability and the impact of tragedy on survivors. Recommended.
Captivates through the close and honest lens it places upon each of its characters.
Switching between viewpoints, Juska contrasts the actions of a split second and the slow burn of a lifetime of behavior to show that both can have extensive, damning consequences that are rarely foreseen.
Juska's compelling narrative tackles complex issues about society's judgment of and responsibility for others. Can we accurately predict violent acts? Who is responsible for intervening?
An incident as timely as the day's headlines—a mall shooting that leaves five dead, including the gunman—catalyzes the plot of this compassionate, searching novel….Moving and memorable in its portrayal of people unexpectedly involved in devastating events.
Highly readable... Juska constructs If We Had Known with intelligence [and] sensitivity...digging deep into her characterizations and settings...[She] also critiques the lure of social media, clearly and smartly depicting its potential for unthinking destructiveness.
This brilliantly-written novel is a great read for those who look for good fiction built around serious issues.
One August afternoon, as single mother Maggie Daley prepares to send her only child off to college, their world is shattered by news of a mass shooting at the local mall in rural Maine. As reports and updates about the tragedy begin to roll in, Maggie, an English professor, is further stunned to learn that the gunman had been a student of hers: Nathan Dugan was an awkward, complicated young man whose quiet presence in her classroom had faded from her memory—but not, it seems, the memories of his classmates.
When a viral blog post hints at the existence of a dark, violence-tinged essay Nathan had written during Maggie’s freshman comp seminar, Maggie soon finds herself at the center of a heated national controversy. Could the overlooked essay have offered critical red flags that might have warned of, or even prevented, the murders to come? As the media storm grows around her, Maggie makes a series of desperate choices that threaten to destroy not just the personal and professional lives she’s worked so hard to build, but—more important—the happiness and safety of her sensitive daughter, Anna.
Engrossing and provocative, combining sharp plot twists with Juska’s award-winning, trademark literary sophistication, If We Had Known is at once an unforgettable mother-daughter journey, an exquisite portrait of a community in turmoil, and a harrowing examination of ethical and moral responsibility in a dangerously interconnected digital world.
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Book review: Two Maine-set novels find characters dealing with trauma of gun violence
Tuesday, April 17 at 7:00 pm
Main Point Books
116 N. Wayne Avenue
Wayne, PA 19087
Thursday, April 26 at 7:00 pm
Open Book Bookstore
7900 High School Road
Elkins Park, PA 19027
Monday, May 7 at 7:00 pm
10 Langley Road
Newton, MA 02459
Thursday, May 10 at 7:00 pm
Behind the Book Reading Series
85 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
(with Tadzio Koelb)
Wednesday, May 16 at 7:30 pm
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(with Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds)
Wednesday, June 6 at 6:00 pm
Penn Book Center
All But True Reading Series
130 S. 34th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(with Tom McAllister, author of How to Be Safe)
Wednesday, July 11 at 7:00 pm
321 Main Street
Beacon, NY 12508
Wednesday, July 25 at 12:00 pm
Portland Public Library
Literary Lunch Series
5 Monument Square
Portland, ME 04101
(with Paul Doiron, author of Stay Hidden)
A family so real in all their sorrow, joy and complexity that they could be yours or mine ... bursting with wise observations about the nature of love and belonging.
A stunning wide-angle snapshot of the Blessing family of Northeast Philadelphia... [t]hey could be any family—and yet, in Juska's capable hands, they're unique and unforgettable.
Several generations of the Blessings, a Philadelphia-based, Irish-American family, come beautifully to life in a deceptively simple tale that examines the foibles, disappointments and passions that tie family members together... The author brings a depth of understanding to the human condition.
With a keen eye for detail and character, Juska shows us that, Tolstoy notwithstanding, a happy family can be happy in its own way and make for great storytelling... An exquisite portrait of a large family.
Throughout the novel, right up until the affecting final scene, Juska explores the paradox of family—how it is the thing that both stifles and sustains you, how it can be simultaneously predictable and unexpected, stable and fragile... the result is the best kind of family portrait—one in which you know each member's foibles and flaws and yet love them anyway.
We are in good hands with award-winning short story author Juska. She is a shrewd observer of human nature and has an outstanding ability to bring her characters to life on the page... this wonderfully readable work about family life will have you eagerly turning pages.
It takes a writer with voice and depth to tell the story of a large Irish Catholic family's travails and make it feel fresh. Elise Juska succeeds with this novel set in Northeast Philly, as the ripple effects of one man's death flow through the lives of those left behind.
This family can feel so real, the prose almost aches.
[A] bighearted novel... Juska's moving, multifaceted portrait of the Blessing family gleams like a jewel.
There's no shortage of novels about the quirks and tragedies of large families, but The Blessings is a uniquely poignant, prismatic look at an Irish-Catholic clan as it rallies after losing one of its own.
Fans of writers like Anne Tyler, Alice McDermott and even Richard Yates will revel in Juska’s resplendent novel detailing two decades in the life of the Blessing clan.