In “The People We Keep,” Allison Larkin, who also writes as Allie Larkin, shows that the family we really need in our lives is the family that’s there for us in bad times as well as good. And that the blood ties we enter the world with may not be as important as the emotional ties we form with those around us. We learn all this through a very unlikely heroine, April Sawicki.
April has grown up with a mother who’s left April and her father for parts unknown. April and her dad live in a motor home that has no motor. It’s certainly not much, and when April is 16, her father leaves her to move in with his girlfriend, whom April detests for obvious reasons. So instead of being there for April, her father is with Irene and her son. April is left alone. Her only true friend is Margo, who at one time had been her father’s girlfriend. When Margo broke up with April’s dad, she made sure to tell April that she wasn’t breaking up with her, and that she wanted to still be a part of April’s life. April began waiting tables, unofficially, at Margo’s diner before April was a teenager.
Clearly, April is bitter toward her father. The only thing he ever gave her that was important was a guitar, and April learned to play it and sing. She loves writing songs, and she sneaks away to play in dives. When she and her father have a vitriolic argument, he destroys her guitar. April steals the car he had bought for Irene and leaves.
The novel is about April and how she navigates life on her own. It’s also about the friends she encounters on the road, the mistakes she makes, the broken people she helps, and how her fear of her past propels her to never put down roots. It’s a gritty look at life, but along with the jerks are good people. Larkin says it all at the end when April narrates, “We have the people we get to keep, who won’t ever let us go. And that’s the most important part.” Romance? No. Happy ending? Yes.
Please note: This review is based on the trade paperback provided by Simon & Schuster for review purposes.