You CAN Go Home Again
Remember the old saying "you can't go home again"? Well, it certainly does not apply to Liza Palmer's newest book, Nowhere but Home. Though it is about trying to return home to a life left behind, the author takes some very serious subjects and manages to weave them into an emotional tale that is even lighthearted in some ways. Orphaned as teens, when their floozy mother was killed after being discovered in bed with her best friend's husband, Queen Elizabeth and Merry Carole Wake (yes, those are their names) have spent their entire lives dealing with scorn from the residents of the small town of North Star, Texas due to the sins of their mother. In Nowhere but Home, Palmer really gets at the heart of class and social status issues that still exist today.
Throughout their childhood, the strong bond between the two sisters helped with their struggle to overcome the stigma of being from the wrong side of the tracks. As in many small towns, everyone knows everyone's business and certain perceptions are passed down through generations. Merry Carole didn't help matters when she became pregnant at 17, and the child's father married someone from a more "acceptable" family. She stays in North Star and becomes the town's top beautician, spending her days catering to the snooty and mean women she grew up with. She hopes things will change when her son becomes the high school star quarterback, but rumors are started that he is the star simply because his mother is sleeping with the football coach. Even after all these years, she still cannot escape the shadow of her mother's bad reputation. Tired of always trying to prove herself, Merry Carole eventually decides to follow her heart and stand up to those who have made her life miserable for so long. She discovers the hidden secrets of her tormentors and it helps her to heal and move on with her life.
The character I was most drawn to in the book was Queen Elizabeth (Queenie). She was a strong main character and used humor and sarcasm to survive, yet you sense she is flawed and uncertain at times which I think made her so likeable to me. She escaped from North Star to follow her dreams to be a chef, leaving behind the town's golden boy she loved but could never have, and sixteen years later finds herself unexpectedly fired from her prestigious chef's job and leaving New York with no place to go but back home. She is hoping that people and the town have changed and that things will be better once she moves back, so she returns to North Star to live with Merry Carole and Cal, her nephew. In one of the most unusual - but important - twists in the story, Queenie takes a job in the nearby state prison, cooking "last meals" for death row prisoners. It may sound like a strange thing to do but it plays a major part in the overall storyline. Queenie loves the fact that she is the master of her own kitchen, but the job is stressful in ways she couldn't begin to imagine. As she cooks and serves each meal, she begins to understand how her past and her upbringing have colored her outlook on this small town and its inhabitants. Everyone in the book is running from something or trying to hide something, and must come to terms with the past in order to move forward. In the end she proves that you really CAN go home again.
I would highly recommend this as a book club selection.