I am a book reviewer for NetGalley, which means I received this book for free in exchange for a review. Click here for more information.
Author: Nicole Dieker
Genre/category: General Fiction
Release date: 23rd May 2017
Where can I buy it? Here
The Biographies of Ordinary People follows the Gruber family – Rosemary and Jack, and their three daughters, Meredith, Natalie, and Jackie. Starting in 1989 and ending in 2000, you get to watch the three daughters grow from imaginative little girls into adults (or at least in Meredith’s case).
The thing I liked the most about this book was the time period. I was born a year before this story begins, and it felt nostalgic and very real to me – the advent of the internet and the lack of awareness of how much it would change the world, the pop culture references, the fashion. It felt genuine and not overdone.
It is very much a character driven book. You get to spend time with each member of the family, delving into their thoughts and emotions. I liked the differences between each sister, and Dieker is skilled at writing from a child’s perspective. I think my favourite parts of the book were the moments when the girls were lost in play together. It reminded me of that long-ago feeling of being with a friend and entering an imaginary world, where real life is suspended and you almost become someone else. I see that in my daughter now as she plays sometimes.
I also felt a connection with the mother, Rosemary. As she watches her daughters, she notices them growing slightly apart from each other as well as from her, a natural progression as children grow into teenagers and young adults. It’s sad and inevitable at the same time. As well as this, she has to cope with the decline of her own mother, finding herself sandwiched between the needs of her husband and children, and the needs of the woman who raised her. I found her storyline the most compelling.
The characters are the strength of the book – they felt real, and three-dimensional, and rooted in reality, as though the author had spent a long time with them, imagining the people they were to be. Even the minor characters – mostly friends of the girls – are interesting and have depth to them.
However, if you like a book that has you clinging onto the edge of your seat for the next plot point, I’d say it’s not for you. It’s immersive, but not as a thrilling, can’t-put-it-down plot-driven book. It’s immersive because you come to care about the characters enough to keep reading. There were times, however, when I expected something to happen, something dramatic within the lives of the family in order to disrupt things, and it mostly didn’t. Which, I guess, isn’t the point: it’s not called The Biographies of Ordinary People for no reason. But if you like richly-developed characters and would enjoy a nostalgia trip to the nineties, I’d recommend it!
I should add, too, that it is a series, and the second book is due to be released in May. I am tempted to buy it at some stage to see what happens to the characters.