Review: “The Crooked Branch”

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Because I’m both an avid fiction reader and a fiction writer, I’m always hesitant to review fiction books.  I’m extremely fussy about them, and tend to prefer literary books than anything else.  But when I was offered the chance to review “The Crooked Branch: A Novel,” by Jeanine Cummins, I took a chance.

Man, am I ever glad I did!  This book is simply amazing.

“The Crooked Branch” is really two stories.  In present day, Majella has just had her first child and is suffering with postpartum depression or something like it, and adjusting to all the other recent life changes: not working, recovery from an unexpected c-section, relocating from Manhattan to Queens, new home ownership.  That’s enough to get anyone unhinged (I’ve been there), but add to it that her husband is a chef and his hours are incredibly long, leaving her to deal with this new and lonely life on her own.  In 1846, her Irish ancestor, Ginny Doyle, has just had her farmlands hit by the blight, and struggles to figure out how to keep their farm and keep her family alive.

The Good
One of the things that author Cummins does incredibly well is lay out what needs to be where when her characters need it, so you don’t feel cheated, like some deus ex machina suddenly dropped the solution or way out in their lap.  She does this seamlessly, and for that alone, I would like this book.  But she also puts her characters into some dire situations and you fear for their safety and well-being, especially Ginny’s family.  Cummins doesn’t stray from making difficult, painful choices, nor does she sugar coat the ugly side of motherhood.  I felt a lot in common with Majella, and while my mommy groups were not so terrible, I related to how difficult it is to pick up and make new friends as you grow into this parenting role.

I was completely compelled by these characters and their struggles, and i felt the story, on both fronts rang true.

The Bad
If I had to pull out one bad thing, I would say that when you go from Ginny’s tale back to Majella’s, Majella seems quite whiny.  Ginny, after all, is dealing with the life or death of her very own children!  Of course, Majella is going through something completely valid too, and when you keep reading it’s fine, it’s just initially jarring when you switch over to the good, modern life of a middle class American.

One other thing – although this is really a “good” for me – don’t read this book without a box of tissues.  Books rarely make me cry, but this one caught me up FOUR TIMES.  If you don’t like to cry and read, you may not fare well, but I personally think you’d be losing out if you skipped this book.

Overall Opinion
I highly recommend this book.  I was engaged with the characters – it’s truly a page turner, and  you will hold your breath as you wait to find out what happens to Ginny and her family.  Majella’s story, for me, brought back memories and the accompanying sense of joy that I made it through to a family I love and enjoy.  Anyone who’s known the pain, love, and struggle of motherhood will enjoy this book.  As for me, I’ll be looking at Cummins’ other books and add her to my favorite authors.

“The Crooked Branch,” by Jeanine Cummins, is published by Penguin Group (USA) and retails for $15.00.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.