Monday, December 7, 2009

Review: White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

The Christmas season is well under way, and I can hardly believe it's that time of year again! In my effort to read 100 books this year, of which I've only read 85...gah!..., I had the chance to read a book from Waterbrook Press called White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner. I was unfamiliar with Meissner's work, but she has published other books as well. Thank you to Waterbrook for sending me a copy of this novel to review!

Synopsis: The novel starts with the 16 year old Tally Bachmann being taken in by her father's sister and husband after her maternal grandmother passes away. Tally was left behind by her unconventional parent/father, who left for Poland to find a treasure spoken of by her grandfather, buried in a yard there when the family was gathered and taken to the Warsaw ghetto. Tally's aunt and her family are having struggles of their own with their 17 year old son Chase, who struggles with his memories of a fire that started at a babysitter's home when he was just three or four that resulted in a small baby dying. Chase, nor his parents, can remember if he was responsible for starting that fire, but all fear he might be the culprit, which is why he continues to be haunted by anxiety and fears.

We then top off the story with a retelling of resistance during WWII against the Nazis by two elderly men in a local nursing facility. Tally, Chase, and their friend interview the men for a school project, and slowly learn their own family's connection to the Jewish Holocaust along the way. While not the central plot line, it is one that helps drive the action of the story.

Synopsis: For most of the novel, I couldn't put my finger on it, but found Meissner's writing style nice to read. It took me awhile to analyze, and soon realized that she has a freshness of speech and sentence construction that makes one comfortable to read her work. I can't say if her other novels do this, but I really enjoyed the clarity and tone of her writing.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel quite a bit. I wasn't sure about the husband and wife plot, that showed a couple struggling to stay connected through the realities of parenting, but understood that it was meant to show us how stressful raising these troubled teens really was for the parents. The characters were pretty complicated, and I felt constantly confused by Tally's father and his behavior. In the back of the novel, Meissner commented in an interview that in her work with children and families, that she saw all sorts of parents--unconventional and traditional--that were all good parents in their own way. I thought this was interesting, as I readily wanted to write off Tally's father, but Meissner doesn't really allow you to totally dislike him. With all of its complicated characters and plot twists, I found White Picket Fences to be an engaging read, and one I would recommend to friends and family interested in a clean family drama.

For more information see: White Picket Fences from Amazon, or Random House for additional information or purchasing.

(***Book provided by Waterbrook Press for review.)


  1. Sounds like there are a few stories wrapped inside this one....I can definitely see where one might get a bit disoriented. Glad to see that you enjoyed it in the end and perhaps have now added another author to your circle of reading. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sounds interesting. I will have to add it to my list!

  3. I'm not a big fan of family drama, unfortunately.