Thursday, May 01, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: Casebook by Mona Simpson

The book you now hold in your hands is our first venture into the old long-form technology that our pay-to-print machine in the back room has made possible. ~ Opening from Casebook



Casebook by Mona Simpson
Knopf, 2014
Fiction; 336 pgs

From the Publisher:
From the acclaimed and award-winning author: a beguiling new novel about an eavesdropping boy working to discover the obscure mysteries of his unraveling family. He uncovers instead what he least wants to know: the workings of his parents' private lives. And even then he can't stop snooping.  
Miles Adler-Rich, helped by his friend Hector, spies and listens in on his separating parents. Both boys are in thrall to Miles's unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is "pretty for a mathematician." They rifle through her dresser drawers and strip-mine her computer diary, finding that all leads pull them straight into her bedroom, and into questions about a stranger from Washington, D.C., who weaves in and out of their lives. Their amateur detective work starts innocently but soon takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family's well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Once burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil, and proceed to concoct hilarious modes of revenge on their villains and eventually, haltingly, learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.
I did not know what to expect going into Mona Simpson's Casebook.  The synopsis made it sound more like a mystery--two boys acting as sleuths to uncover their parents' secrets.  But at its heart, this is really a tender coming of age story about a boy finding his way after his parents divorce and their new relationships. It's the story of how Miles struggles with his conflicting emotions, faces life's challenges and searches for answers about love and betrayal.  Casebook is funny and charming. It is also sad and thoughtful.  

I loved the way Mona Simpson sets the story up.  In the introduction, the reader learns that the narrator and his friend are the "authors", telling the story behind the graphic novel they wrote about their espionage efforts. Names have been changed or nicknames used (like for Miles' two sisters, Boop One and Boop Two), descriptions even, in order to avoid identification of the people involved. Written in the first person perspective, this is Miles' story, with added footnotes by his friend Hector. (For those not liking footnotes--there are not very many, but the ones that exist are brief and funny in their own right.)

I liked that the story is a quiet one.  It is not action packed, although it is a fairly fast read.  If you are expecting big climaxes and life shattering revelations, you won't get them here.  The mystery behind Miles and Hector's search for the truth about Eli, Irene's boyfriend, is not at all surprising.  It is easy to guess early on, the markers being quite clear.  For me, what was more important was how Miles dealt with the truth once he found it, how it changed him and impacted his choices there after.  

I adored Miles.  He is so innocent and naive on one hand and yet extremely resourceful and wise beyond his years in others.  Even when he was exacting revenge on his enemies, he demonstrated he had heart and cared about others.  I also really liked Miles' friend, Hector, who was the kind of best friend I wish I could have had growing up.  His loyalty and taking matters into his own hands for his friend's sake say much about him.  At the same time, I wish Miles' had paid more attention to what his friend was going through.  Miles noticed Hector's troubles, but, to me, it felt like he was too caught up in his own life to really see his friend and the trouble that might be brewing in Hector's life, behind the scenes.  I don't completely blame Miles though. Hector used Miles' life to avoid his own.  

I am glad the author told the story from the point of view of Miles.  I think back to my childhood, my curiosity about what was going on around me, including about my parents' relationship.  I never resorted to tapping their phone, or rifling through their things, but I caught snatches of conversation here and there.  And sometimes, perhaps, I snooped a little more than I should have.  I do understand the desire to want to know more about a parent, to understand why he or she is depressed or angry, and wanting to find a way to fix it, hurting alongside them, and wanting them only to be happy.  Miles loved his mother dearly and wanted so much for her to be happy.  Miles learned some difficult lessons through the course of his story, but the fact that he came away from it all with hope . . . . Well, that warmed my heart.

Rating:  * (Very Good)


To learn more about  Mona Simpson, and her books, please visit the author's website.

I hope you will check out what others had to say about Casebook on the TLC Book Tours route!




Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. E-copy of Casebook provided by publisher.

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

22 comments:

  1. Hmm... Sounds interesting and I think the premise is quite unique from what you've mentioned. Not sure if I'd read this but that's a lovely review you'd wrote! :)

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    1. Melody - I wasn't sure I would like it when I first heard about it, but after a couple of blogger reviews by people I trust, I decided it was worth a try. I'm so glad I read it.

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  2. Loving the cover, intrigued by how plain and yet eye catching it is. I'm glad Casebook turned out to be a winner with you.

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    1. Tracy - I like the cover too. It's very simple!

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  3. How interesting. I saw the blurb somewhere, maybe on NetGalley, but didn't request it. Now it seems I may have missed something! Great review, Wendy, it changed my interest in this book.

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    1. Jenclair - I know not everyone will like this one. It's such a quiet book with not a whole lot of action, but I enjoyed it. :-)

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  4. I'm so torn on this book! It sounds really good and your review really makes me want to read it but the subject is one I tend to avoid.

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    1. Katherine - I was really surprised by this book. It had its predictable moments, but it wasn't quite what I expected overall. It could have been a much more emotional heavy book than it was, but fortunately the author didn't make it so--at least not as much as she could have.

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  5. I enjoy books from the point of view of children/adolescents/ YA and think this is one I'd enjoy. Nice review!
    Harvee
    Book Dilettante

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    1. Harvee - Children offer an interesting perspective to books like this, and I think this particular book was well served by the voice of the child/adolescent. I hope you do get a chance to read it.

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  6. I really want to read this one and especially after reading your review!

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    1. Kathleen - I hope you get a chance to. It's a fairly quick read once you get started.

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  7. I enjoy quiet stories too and Casebook sounds good. Sounds like reading this from Miles POV makes this for an endearing story. Great review!

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    1. Naida - I definitely think Mile's voice made this book.

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  8. I think I'll enjoy getting to know these boys - they sound so sincere and REAL!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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    1. Heather - They do! I hope you do get a chance to read it, Heather.

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  9. When I was younger I found a box of letters my dad sent my mom from Vietnam in the basement. I would sneak down there to read them because Vietnam wasn't something we talked about. I was a snooper for sure :)

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    1. Stacy - How cool is that! I would have loved to find a stash like that in the basement. :-)

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  10. What a good review, Wendy! I hadn't really paid attention to this one before. I must read it. When I think back to books I could read as a child when my parents divorced, there were none. Now of course there are many more, which is good, though it's hard to know what would be good for a child and still entertaining. This sounds like one. I like how you point out the weakness of Miles in not paying attention to his friend more.....which sadly is very true to life, isn' t it? I'll check to see if my library has this. Thanks!

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    1. Susan - Thank you! I don't think this one would be good for children--except maybe teens. There are definite adult themes.

      Yes, you are right about friends not always paying attention to what other friends are going through--we get so caught up in our own stuff, we sometimes forget to check in with our friends and see where they are in their lives.

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  11. Sorry - I realize it's not a graphic novel! Not sure how I got that.....lol

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    1. Susan - There are a couple of pictures in the book, towards the end. :-) In the book, the idea is that Miles and his best friend wrote a graphic novel about their snooping and findings and got it published. So, there was a graphic novel involved. :-)

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