My Townie Heart is set in Massachusetts in the 1970’s. It centres around Laura DiStefano and her life within the family she loves but seems to want to escape. We first meet Laura as she is coming back home after flunking University. She feels ashamed and feels she has let her dream go to waste. As the book gets going we learn that Laura’s sister Jane was sexually assaulted and raped as a child by a local boy, Tommy. This attack has a huge bearing on the family and their future and Laura makes references to it throughout the book.
Upon her return home she finds a job at a local Greek cafe and finds herself a boyfriend, Kevin. She misses her old life, the one she had carved out for herself at University, her friends – especially Gail – and she views her job at the cafe and her involvement with Kevin as temporary. She has no desire to settle into a life in Springfield but is doing very little about escaping that life.
Laura and Jane have a close relationship, although as a survivor of such an attack Jane is portrayed as brash and a sort of misfit. I’m not sure if that is the way I would want to see a rape survivor portrayed, as a misfit – maybe small town mentality is to blame? – but the feisty character trait and glimpses of self destructive behaviour certainly ring true. Jane is pregnant but at first she is hiding it from her parents, or so she believes. The relationship both girls have with their parents is strained at best, but once Jane gives birth that all changes. They seem to become more like a family again, something that has been missing ever since Jane was attacked when she was five years old.
Laura’s relationship with Kevin is complicated, by her behaviour and thoughts. He clearly loves her but she shies away from her feelings towards him at first. On one of her visits back to the University to visit Gail, the friend she made whilst there, she comes face to face with the boy who broke her heart at Uni and this leads her to recklessly fall into bed with a local drug dealer. She regrets this action but decides to keep it to herself, not wanting to come clean to Kevin about her behaviour.
Eventually Kevin finds out about her one night stand and they split up. The break up affects her more than she cares to admit but as usual she buries her feelings and tries to act like nothing is wrong. After a few months she bumps into Kevin and they agree to talk, but he can’t see her right then as his mother is in the hospital and he needs to help out at home. He agrees to collect her from work the next day and Laura finds that she is really looking forward to it. The next day Tommy, who has been back in town a while, comes into the cafe. Jane is also at the cafe with Tabitha, her baby, and her friend Kimmy. Tommy and his friend cause a scene and Ari, the cafe owner, asks them to leave. Ari is pushed to the ground and then Tommy sees Jane. A strange sort of conversation is started up between the two of them, but Jane is insulting Tommy. He then says something about Tabitha and Jane seems to flip, she stabs him in the chest and Laura is convinced she’s killed him. Laura faints and when she comes round the police have arrived, along with Kevin. Tommy isn’t dead but Laura feels different. Panic sets in after this latest incident and she eventually becomes agoraphobic. She sinks into a depression and won’t leave the house at all. One night she argues with Jane, who has been out drinking, and Jane tells her to leave. Without thinking Laura goes to pack a few things and leaves, heading for New Mexico, where one of Gail’s friend’s lives.
It is in New Mexico where she sorts herself out; going back to school to get the right qualifications to become a lawyer and starting to live the kind of life she wants. She keeps in touch with Kevin, although he is angry with her at first for just taking off. The story ends with Kevin’s alcoholic father dying and Kevin deciding to join her in New Mexico.
There were aspects of this book I loved and aspects I hated. I hated the drug use Laura, Jane and Laura’s friends were so hooked on. But that drug use is an integral part of the story so I totally understand why it is there. I hated how Jane was portrayed as a misfit just because she was a victim of rape. I have put that down to the small town mentality and the era, I’m not sure if that is what the author intended. I loved Jane. Having gone through what she did – although not at the same age as her – I could understand what she felt. I loved how the effect of the attack was shown from the family’s point of view. I loved how Sonya, (Gail’s friend), felt it necessary to share her own rape story and not let herself be defined as a victim, or be ashamed of herself. I wanted to throttle Laura when she wouldn’t open up to Kevin about her feelings towards the future.
I think this is a powerful story and not just because of the attack on Jane. I think Laura is typical of many people her age, especially when it comes to knowing what they want to do with their future. That was true back in the 70’s and it is still true today. The story was very much about Laura exploring her options, wrestling with her own demons and feeling responsible for what had happened to Jane. Some of the content is a little graphic and at times the story is very dark, but it is a brilliant read and I highly recommend it.
5 stars *****