Posted on Jul 14, 2005 in Fiction

by Lorna J. Cook
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005

I read Departures — appropriately enough — on a cross Atlantic flight from France to the U.S. Though I heard Lorna Cook say, in a writing conference sectional she was leading, that Departures was not her first choice for a title — I like it. I think it fits perfectly with a penchant one of the characters has for probing the layers of meaning in words by tracing them to their Latin source and then savoring the nuances implied.

Lorna Cook’s novel probes the layers and meaning of our life departures.

The story is told from the vantage point of two adolescents — Suzen and Evan — who are brother and sister. They have a younger sister (Aimee), a mother who is still an aspiring artist (even if her children don’t recognize it) and a father who is a professor at a liberal arts college in a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Both Suzen and Evan are leaving the innocence of childhood behind, “coming of age” as they say. The two move through the story trying to get a grip on emotions and growing pains that are exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.

Cook covers the waterfront on these turbulent years in a way that should bring comfort to young people going through similar turbulence. She deals with those raging hormones, the confusion of homosexual longings, the hunger for independence and a voice of our own, and the real consequences that can result from our decisions. Don’t we remember.

She is chaste — this writer. Though not shirking the very real sexual experiences teens encounter, she doesn’t titillate. Which means her story should pass the ratings test for parents. Especially those who recognize that though they might wish otherwise, kids today live in a sexually charged culture and need all the sensitive resources they can get to help them find their way.

This is not just a young adult novel however. As I first began to read, I thought it might be. But though my children are now well over 21 and on their own, I was just as comforted as any teen might be as the story drew me in. It was good to be reminded that our children are just as baffled by our actions and comments as we are by theirs. Good to remember, too, that we parents are still finding our way.

In the sectional I attended, Cook demurred more than once that the book was not autobiographical. And yet it would seem that she has deftly mined her own personal “compost” — having grown up a small town in the same geographical location, the daughter of a professor/provost at the local college. (For those of us who live in that same small town it was great fun to think we knew exactly the places to which she was referring. And around here, we understand about family names like VanderZee!)

But what really matters is that she has written deftly. The story flows, the crises are believable, the characters alive, and the conclusion satisfying.

Which is why I plan to read her second novel — Home Away from Home — soon!