The Making of Nebraska Brown by Louise Caiola
Publisher: Immortal Ink Publishing
Release date: February 2014
Source: e-book from publisher
About the story:
The last thing eighteen-year-old Ann Leigh remembers is running from her boyfriend in a thick Nebraska cornfield. This morning she’s staring down a cool Italian sunrise, an entire continent from the life she once knew. The events of the eighteen months in between have inexplicably gone missing from her memory.
All at once she’s living with Tommy, an attractive, young foreigner asking for her continued love. Though he’s vaguely familiar, she recalls a boy named Shane in America who she reluctantly agreed to marry. Juggling a new world while her old one is still M.I.A is difficult enough without the terrifying movie scenes spinning a dizzy loop in her mind: glimpses of a devastating house fire, a romance gone wrong, an unplanned pregnancy, and a fractured family – each claiming to be part of who she once was – a girl and a past somehow discarded.
Ann Leigh must collect the pieces of herself to become whole again, but she doesn’t know who to trust especially when Tommy’s lies become too obvious to ignore. And above all, her heart aches to discover what became of the child she may or may not have given birth to.
The Making of Nebraska Brown tells the story of one girl’s coming apart from the inside and the great lengths she’ll go to reclaim herself and find her way home.
The nitty-gritty: An engaging main character, a journey of self-discovery and a slow-brewing mystery.
Last thing I remember, Shane Kirkland had his left hand on my right boob, and I could feel the nub—the missing chunk of his pinky finger that got chewed off in the gristmill. So I ran, mostly because the idea of marrying him and his sad punk of a finger sent a shiver straight through to my bones.
I have to admit, when I read the blurb for this book, I could have sworn it had a time travel/paranormal feel to it. Or perhaps that’s what I wanted to see. In fact, The Making of Nebraska Brown is a contemporary story. I rarely read contemporary, and when I do, it’s mostly because it’s an author I love and I will read anything they write. And so as I was reading, I kept expecting to run into paranormal elements. When that didn’t happen, I decided to just go with it and enjoy it for what it was, a moving story about a girl who has lost her memory and the consequences she faces.
And I am glad I read this book, even though it isn’t my normal genre. Caiola has a way of evoking emotions from her readers without getting sappy. There is a huge mystery to this story—one that I will not share with you—that slowly builds until the final emotional reveal. You must go through the process of reading and experiencing all the clues for the full impact, which simply proves that Caiola knows how to tell a story. And even though there were things about the book that didn’t work for me, I did appreciate her overall storytelling skills, pacing and character development, certainly enough to recommend this book to lovers of contemporary fiction.
The good stuff.
Caiola’s pacing is excellent. She sets up her story by immediately telling us about the mystery that is Ann Leigh/Ana Lisa. By jumping back and forth between the two time frames—2002 and 2004—in alternating chapters, we slowly begin to realize that Ana Lisa, who lives in Campania, Italy with her Italian boyfriend Tommy, is troubled by a past she can’t remember. Flashes of that past keep coming forward, especially when she falls asleep and dreams about people and places that have nothing to do with Italy. As the clues to her “other” life start to stack up, she realizes that some very important things happened, and in order to move forward, she needs to figure out exactly what those things are.
But the story doesn’t completely take place in Italy. The chapters that take place in 2002 describe a girl named Ann Leigh who lives in Nebraska and and is getting ready to marry her boyfriend Shane. The real mystery is why can’t Ana Lisa remember anything about this other person? What exactly happened to her, and why is she living in Italy? Pieces of her memory are missing, and unfortunately they are important pieces. Caiola handles all of this with assured skill, drawing the mystery out until nearly the last page of the book. At 90% on my Kindle, I made a notation that said “What is going on???” Not being able to guess the mystery is always a good sign that the writer knows what she’s doing.
There were lots of poignant moments in the story, times where I had to catch my breath because I was overwhelmed with emotion. Many of these involved Ann’s sister Sissy and their relationship. Both of them have secrets, and both are terrified of their parents finding out. This creates a special bond between them that I really loved. One very emotional part near the end I can’t discuss, because it would be a major spoiler to a big plot point. But let’s just say I definitely had tears in my eyes at that point.
The story had a Wizard of Oz vibe to it because the main theme is that Ana is trying to find a family that she knows exists but that she can’t remember. Ana often tells Tommy that she just wants to “go home,” much like Dorothy trying to find her way out of Oz.
Some things that didn’t work for me.
As well-paced as the story was, however, I mostly had a hard time with Caiola’s prose. Her writing tends to be flowery and overblown, and while this style might work well for contemporary inspirational stories, it was too over-the-top for me. Phrases like
Tommy wore a heaving, swollen happiness with abandon, so much so he nearly burst open, bliss running out all over the place.
The wind was wrestled by the sun, held down by ghostly sun arms, and subsequently defeated.
made me roll my eyes or scratch my head in puzzlement. Likewise, some of her sentences were awkward and could have benefited from more editing, like “No boy to crane his neck over his ankles for me.” What?
I also had an issue with the way Ana was “handled” by Tommy (and I can’t say much more than that without giving some things away). Whenever female characters (or male, for that matter) are made to come across as frail because of a handicap—in this case, memory loss—and the significant other in their lives treats them as little more than problems to be dealt with, well, that doesn’t sit well with me. Ann/Ana has two men in her life and I couldn’t stand either one of them for that reason.
But aside from my personal issues, many readers will love this engrossing mystery and journey of self-discovery. Caiola certainly knows how to tug at your heartstrings, and I officially declare that mine have been duly tugged.
About the author:
As a young girl who spent her allowance on Nancy Drew mysteries, Louise realized that one day, she might have a story of her own to tell. Maybe even more than one story. After years focused on raising her children she eventually reconnected with her passion for creative writing. She soon began to craft a large collection of short stories which were published in the inspirational online magazine, Faithhopeandfiction.com. Shortly thereafter, she authored her first novel, Wishless, a contemporary YA, released in 2011.