The People We Keep by Allison Larkin
Published by Gallery Books
Publication date: August 3, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Coming-of-age, Literary
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
At 16 April Sawicki’s life looks pretty well-mapped out, if there were such a thing as maps going nowhere. She lives in a broken motorhome, alone because her father has a new girlfriend and doesn’t come home anymore, and her mother is long gone. She’s flunking out of high school, but her boyfriend is the handsomest guy there and wants to marry her. Why not? He’ll get a decent job at a factory near their small upstate New York town, kill deer for them to eat, and she’ll take care of him and their children. So, April has no expectations when she goes to an open-mic night at a local bar and plays the guitar while singing songs she’s written. The positive response makes her wonder if there is more out there. The People We Keep is her story.
April gets into a huge fight with her father, after he smashes her guitar and hits her. She steals the car he bought for his girlfriend and heads out despite having only $175. She lands in Ithaca where she finds a coffeehouse willing to train her and pay her cash, but she lives in her car, her only meals the sandwiches they give her at work. Then she meets Adam, 27, who’s getting his PhD and teaching at Cornell. He offers her a safe place to sleep and shower. Slowly, April starts carving out a home for herself, with friends and a real relationship. But when things go wrong she reverts to the only solution she knows and runs. She spends the next three years moving from place to place up and down the east coast, singing and working in various jobs.
In case you were wondering this is not A Star is Born. Instead, The People We Keep is a much deeper, smaller story of the kind of people and lives that go largely unnoticed. April has never known love or care, with the exception of one of her father’s old girlfriends who breaks up with him, but not with her. She internalizes this emotional abandonment, showing the world a tough girl who doesn’t need anyone. This façade is deconstructed by author Allison Larkin who quietly conveys April’s loneliness, reinforcing it with the vulnerability and soul crushing strangeness of being homeless. Of having to lie all the time, living in dread, waiting for the lies to be exposed and doors to slam closed.
This is not to say The People We Keep is a traumafest. No, it’s the story of one young girl on her own, making some bad decisions, but always forging ahead, determined to create the home she never had. Along the way, she meets damaged people and people who damage, with their own stories. Larkin alchemizes them all into reading gold—a poignant novel of finding family and home when least expected.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).