You Are Here by Karin Lin-Greenberg
Published by Counterpoint
Publication date: May 2, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
After a shockwave novel on Monday I was happy to shift back to easy reading so the straightforward premise of You Are Here seemed perfect. It’s the story of five people whose lives intersect in a rundown shopping center in Albany, New York. Debut author Karin Lin-Greenberg uses the mall’s impending closure as a tipping point for each as they reconcile where they are in their lives versus where they hoped to be.
Tina, Kevin, and Maria all work at the mall—Tina as a hairstylist, Kevin managing a bookstore, and Maria at a fast-food place. Tina is a single mother so her 10-year-old son, Jackson comes to the salon after school. Ro, an elderly widow, is one of the few clients she has left and visits once a week. From these broad strokes You Are Here follows one character at a time, coloring in their outlines with their back stories and breathing life into their forms with the situations each currently faces.
For Tina, her job as a stylist is the result of an adolescent rebellion that led to her refusal to apply for any college despite having the grades. Kevin has lots of ideas, but so far the only he’s acted on is using the family’s savings to build a 400sf tiny house where he now lives in his mother-in-law’s backyard with his wife and two children. They live next to door to Ro, but thanks to the quiet racism she’s shown to Kevin’s in-laws for the last 40 years because they’re Black, their only interactions are coldly polite.
Each chapter in You Are Here focuses on a different character and their interactions with the others, giving a sense of not just how the person perceives themselves, but how others see them. Ro’s loneliness after the death of her husband could have been alleviated by her next-door neighbor, also a widow, but her ignorance has cost her a potential friend. Tina sees her own secretive, practical nature arising in Jackson, dampening his enthusiasm for a hobby he loves and making him withdrawn. The more the characters interact the more firmly entwined their lives become, even if they are still largely strangers.
This is not literary fiction or propulsive reading; it’s the simple story of people struggling to define themselves. Chapters begin with conflict, but wrap up fairly neatly with a humane resolution. And yes, there is a tragedy in the second half, one that is becoming all too familiar in America. Another time this could feel too contrived or formulaic, but in You Are Here there was a comfort in things being set right after they’ve gone wrong. This is “right book, right time” reading in that I checked my cynicism at the door and just enjoyed this novel.
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Thank you Catherine for the great review. This looks good and is going on my already huge TBR list.
Sometimes novels that wrap up neatly are just what we need!