Book Review: Friendswood

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On the back jacket flap for Friendswood the description states:

In this layered, propulsive, psychologically complex novel, Steinke explores the questions that arise when community, faith, politics, and industry are so closely intertwined. She demonsrates a poignant insight and empathy for her characters and their town, immersing the reader in small-town Texas and the moving, suspenseful lives of its characters as they hurtle towards their futures.

Friendswood is an engrossing layered novel for certain and one I considered to be a Great Read. It’s composed of Great Characters and Great Stories. As well, (in my opinion) threaded throughout is this strong underlying message about the silencing of women’s voices, in what could be considered in its two distinct storylines.

For me, I did feel there were these two distinct storylines led by two female protagonists- Lee and Willa. There were other characters (male) to complement their stories, but I felt there could be clear distinction found between the two female storylines, but ones that were also linked to the overall story of Friendswood.  These male characters: Cully, Dex, Jack and Hal, will grab at you too, but I thought they played supporting roles to Lee and Willa.

Lee’s storyline will leave you with the “Erin Brockovich” feels. Lee is on a mission to expose the town of Rosemont and its buried, toxic chemicals that forced all of its residents to leave 10 years ago. Rosemont. back in 1993, used to hold the happy home for Lee, her husband Jack, and their daughter Jess. Now, 10 years later, and following Jess’ death from a rare blood cancer, Lee is on her own fighting this failing fight. Her husband has left her for another woman and the townsfolk think she’s gone crazy due to her grief. No one will truly listen to or bother with Lee and her fierce determination to expose the buried chemicals and their link to the number of deaths and diseases that have plagued the former residents of Rosemont. She knows Jess died from this blood disease due to the chemical leaks by the oil refinery near Rosemont. She knows that the many other deaths have been also been as a result of these leaks. Secretly, she visits the site and photographs her evidence and takes soil samples. Why is Lee so determined to expose the contaminated site? Her daughter is gone after all, and no one leaves there anymore.  Turns out a real estate developer is intent on moving forward with his plans to build a new subdivision on the very land that clearly remains contaminated. He has his reports from the EPA claiming there remains no further threat to human health on this site.

Hal is the real estate agent desperate to improve his fortune and wants to work with the developer for the new Rosemont subdivision. He is tasked by this developer to keep Lee from bringing her evidence to light. Lee is in constant battle to prove that the EPA’s reports are false and the land is desperately unsafe for development. It is a constant struggle for Lee to have her voice heard and believed in and she is beginning to grow quite weary of the fight.

Willa is a sophomore in high school, prone to strange visions, but is a quiet, keep to herself kind of girl that enjoys reading and writing poetry.  She falls prey to a terrible prank (as the perpetrators claim it to be) designed by a group of popular football players, one of whom Willa has a great crush on (Cully). Dex is the boy that is not a football star, but only assists with the players and the games. He tries to fit in with the other players, but is growing increasingly uncomfortable around them, their increasing drug and alcohol use and their pranks. He finds Willa to be interesting and not at all “weird” as most others in school have pegged her. Willa is tricked one afternoon into going out for lunch with the star footballer – Cully. She is drugged and raped by at least two, possibly three boys from the team, including Cully. She is the only girl at the house where the rape took place because this is as it was planned by the boys. Although she was their intended target, and the victim of their crime she is the one that is blamed. Willa is the one that is not viewed as a victim of a horrible crime, but the girl that is to be found at fault. After all, what kind of girl shows up alone at a house with 16 boys? What kind of girl drinks like that to not remember the events of that day? The football stars are told to stay away from that kind of girl. No real punishment is ever doled out to these boys – they are after all the football heroes – and you cannot possibly destroy their futures! Heaven forbid. Willa is thus forced to be home-schooled as a result of persistent and vicious rumours circulating about her.

Friendswood was an engrossing and very compelling read. It was one I burned through in a matter of a few short days. With its wholly believable and wonderfully rendered characters and stories – Lee, Willa, Cully, Dex, Hal, etc. will grab your attention immediately and not let go until the final pages. The ending comes to a highly satisfying close and leaves you thinking about Friendswood and those there for many days following. A highly recommended read. 4 stars = excellent.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev