The Grown Ups by Robin Antalek
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062302472
Trade paperback, $14.99, 357 pages
The cover of Robin Antalek's The Grown Ups is a photo of what looks like an abandoned picnic table. It drew me in right away, wondering what happened at that table. Did the people who ate there enjoy themselves or was there an argument and is that why no one is sitting there?
The Grown Ups open in 1997 at Suzie Epstein's 15th birthday party. Suzie brings her neighbor Sam into her basement and shows him photos of neighborhood women that her father, who just moved out out, had hidden. Sam just wanted to kiss Suzie, but Suzie wanted Sam to know that his mother's photo was there, and that it implied that her father and his mother were sleeping together.
Soon after, Sam's mother left too, and that left Sam alone with his father and older brother Michael to fend for themselves. Suzie's mom falls into a funk and it is left to Suzie to run the household and care for her little brothers.
Suzie's mom moves the family away to reunite with her husband in Brookline, far away from Sam. Sam is distraught and he begins to date Bella, Suzie's best friend. Bella loves Sam, Sam pines for Suzie, and Suzie is determined to go to medical school. She will not let herself become totally dependent on a man like her mother.
Suzie meets someone and falls in love, and Bella and Sam date, though Sam can't really commit to Bella the way she deserves. He becomes distant and loses his way in life.
Until he finds that he has a talent for cooking. He works for a caterer in Manhattan where
"The prep kitchens were in a warehouse building near the West Side Highway, and the food was what you would expect at a wedding for a hundred or so of your not-so-close friends. There were always a multitude of chicken dishes on the menu, as well as salmon puffs and shrimp rolls, and roasted red potatoes. These dishes traveled well on the Long Island Expressway en route to their location."I never would have imagined that the warehouses on the West Side Highway housed catering kitchens. I will think of that the next time I am at an event for hundreds of people.
I enjoyed the descriptions of Sam's food, like "the quinoa salad with roasted vegetables, black bean burgers on whole grain rolls, a green salad, and new potatoes with lemon laid out on the table in the backyard underneath the grape arbor."
Or this one: "For dinner Sam grilled the corn and steaks, pulverized the parsley, lemon, garlic and oil into a pesto he drizzled over thin slices of meat and roasted potato, and served everything on the deck."
The Grown Ups is a wonderful coming-of-age story, although the scenes set in 1997 seemed to me to contain details more in line with being a teenager in the 1970s, with all the moms smoking and milk delivered to homes and left in boxes on the porch.
Sam, Suzie and Bella each tell their story in alternating chapters, and they feel to me like people I would know from the neighborhood. They try to be good people, dealing with family problems, unrequited love, and all the scary things life can throw at you. Sam's dad Hunt in particular was a favorite of mine, supporting his kids and just being an all-round good guy.
Antalek writes a story filled with very detailed scenes that you can visualize in your mind. After reading The Grown Ups, I picked up Antalek's previous novel The Summer We Fell Apart because she tells a story with so much heart.
The Grown Ups reminded me of Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, another story about a group of friends struggling with friendship, love and life.
My review of The Interestings is here.