One Two Three by Laurie Frankel
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: June 8, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Social Issues
Bourne has always been a small town, but after the chemical plant polluted its waters, killing off citizens with cancers and producing a generation of children all impacted by carcinogens and other destructive pollutants, the town drew further into itself. It’s been seventeen years since that disaster and for 16-year-old triplets, Mab, Mirabel, and Monday nothing of interest has happened in their lifetime. Their mother, Nora, continues to fight to bring justice to the town with no results. But as One Two Three begins, something is happening. Someone is moving into Bourne and their presence will once again bring change to the town.
A dead-end town, populated by people with varying degrees of neurological and physical disabilities doesn’t sound like land ripe for harvesting, but for author Laurie Frankel it’s fertile territory. Mab is what the rest of the world would call ‘normal’. She and her best friend Petra have one goal, take the SATs and get out of Bourne. Except they’ve never discussed where because no one leaves Bourne. Monday is neurodivergent in that she has sensory perception issues, but she is the keeper of the remaining books from the closed library. She can find any one of them in their house, has read most of them, and never lies. Despite not being able to speak, Mirabel is the smartest of the three, but has the most physical challenges.
The new additions to Bourne turn out to be the family of the original chemical plant owner, the Templetons, returning from Boston to reopen the plant. River is the 16-year-old grandson slated to go to school with the girls. He is also completely unaware of his family’s history and impact on the town. This is the inflection point for everything that follows in One Two Three. Nora is certain that the family is back to find the one piece of incontrovertible proof that will bring them down. The girls’ belief in their mother encourages them to find the answers for themselves.
There is a mystery at the center of One Two Three, but while it keeps the novel moving it’s the world Frankel builds that is so special. With a steady hand and gentle touch, she subtly acclimates the reader to the realities of Bourne. People shower with bottled water. Nora bakes because most baking involves no water. She works 3 jobs while caring for a wheelchair bound daughter who’s falling in love for the first time, but knows there’s no chance of reciprocation. A doctor who’s also the town’s only pastor. An elderly Korean woman who pretends to be blind so Mab will come read to her. These are the left behind making do with what they have.
It may seem bleak, but Frankel is the tenderest of writers, providing comfort for both her characters and the reader. Her attention to the smallest details smooths everyone’s path. One Two Three comes from an ocean of empathy and compassion, not in any superficial or false way to negate or lessen the reality of what are very difficult lives. Life in Bourne acknowledges and honors them, providing awareness of the fullness and complexity of people who are often overlooked, misjudged or ignored because they don’t conform to societal norms.
At the top of this list are Mab, Monday, and Mirabel bringing all the angst, joy, and drama of teenage girls. Girls so close they know each other without words. There is a lot happening around them, but the sisters, each with her own unique way of processing the world, make One Two Three shine.
Backlist beauty: If you want to read more of Laurie Frankel, I loved her previous novel, This is How it Always Is.
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