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Home Leave: A Novel by Brittani Sonnenberg
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Home Leave: A Novel

by Brittani Sonnenberg

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This book is not what I was expecting. The descriptions of being an expat and how you feel when your spouse leaves on trips for work all the time were really accurate, but ultimately the weird varying narrators (the grandparents, a play, first person, third person, first person plural, a HOUSE) were too much for me and ruined a story I could have really related to. Of course the point of a novel is not to always relate to the story, it's to learn and stretch your boundaries, but I would rather do that through places and characters that have new-to-me experiences than through weird stylistic technique. ( )
  eraderneely | Feb 14, 2019 |
Overall a good first novel Chris and Elise are a couple who eventually marry and become a family, with daughters Leah and Sophie. They travel around the world due to Chris's job, where every 3-5 or so years they pick up and move to a new place. Singapore. London. And more.
 
The book follows their story (starting out with a POV from the house Elise grew up in), from the young and in love couple Chris and Elise, to the new parents, to their lives as a foursome family, each time moving to a new place, making new friends, adjusting to a new life. All the while dealing with what most other families deal with: Chris's travels, Elise's eventual restlessness, Leah and Sophie as children and young teenagers.
 
However, tragedy strikes and the family must deal with the aftermath and the consequences. We follow them after the tragedy and see how they have changed and how they comes to terms with it (or not).
 
Initially I was totally hooked by reading some of Elise's and her parents'/siblings' backstories via the house she grew up in. I know some books take on unusual narrators (Death in The Book Thief, for example), and I thought it worked quite well here. It was very intriguing. What does a "house" think and feel? And for some reason I was under the impression the house would be doing the narrating (maybe it is), but I wished the author had stuck with that, although it wouldn't have been possible without changing the story quite a bit.
 
However, towards the end the book really sags. From the house to third person to using the royal "We" was a problem (I didn't care for that change in style to using the "we"), and as there is no real "conflict" there's nothing that really gets resolved. I realize it's the story of a family and often there is no resolution, but it seemed like the author ran out of gas.
 
But overall it flowed very quickly and well and it was a page turner for me. It's the author's debut and I think I'll keep an eye out for her next work. Worth picking up for an airplane ride. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
Interesting. Lives unspooling across continents. What life is like after a sudden death. This one stayed with me. ( )
  revliz | Jan 22, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received an advance reader’s copy of Home Leave, the debut novel by Brittani Sonnenberg, through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Many thanks to LT and to Grand Central Publishing (Hachette Group) for the opportunity to read and review it.

Brittani Sonnenberg is a talented writer, and the range of narrative styles in Home Leave illustrates a willingness to be experimental. I looked at the other LT reviews, and a few of them expressed frustration at some of the narrators Sonnenberg used. For me, that was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book. When I started reading, I couldn’t figure out who was narrating. I re-read the description on the back of the book, looking for some hint. On page three or four, it became clear who it was, and I thought of starting my review with: “You won’t be able to guess the first narrator, so just go with it; you’ll know who it is by page four.” Other reviewers hated that beginning, but I thought it was cool. There are two chapters written as mini-plays, and there’s a chapter near the end of the book written in first person plural. All of these worked fine for me, but they won’t work for everyone.

The book opens with two epigraphs; one of these explains, “The purpose of home leave is to ensure that employees who live abroad for an extended period undergo reorientation and re-exposure in the United States on a regular basis.” Chris Kriegstein is from Indiana, and Elise grew up in Mississippi. The young family spends about four years in Atlanta, and two or three in Shanghai, but for sisters Leah and Sophie, “home” is really one another. Sonnenberg paints these two girls, and their relationship, very realistically. Leah sometimes takes care of Sophie, but is just as often annoyed with her. Leah is quiet and bookish, while Sophie is more energetic and adventurous. As Leah becomes a moody teenager, they drift apart somewhat … but not far apart.

Readers who prefer “likeable” characters could have problems with Elise. The publisher blurb says that she “shape-shifts,” and one of her identities is “unapologetic adulterer.” When Leah is a baby, Elise often feels trapped by motherhood, and when she learns she is pregnant for a second time, she isn’t happy about it. However, when the girls are a bit older and the family is abroad, Elise often seems like a “normal” mom: she has her quirks and bad moods, but it’s clear that she loves her daughters. Chris is probably the least vivid of the main characters, to me, and yet I did like him a good deal. We learn in the second chapter (which seems to be set the closest to present day) that Chris was a star athlete in his Indiana high school, became a successful businessman who lived in several countries, and is now his company’s CEO. He and Elise are still married and living in Madison, Wisconsin, having made it through her affair, his overseas jobs, their mutual grief.

The backdrop of the novel is the panorama of international settings, but at its heart are grief and loss. The family suffers a tragedy, and can’t return to normal. There’s some irony, too, in the title of the book: “home leave” is what Elise and the girls take for a couple of months each summer, while Chris remains in China, but Leaving Home is what Chris and Elise both wanted desperately to do when they were growing up -- and succeeded, spending several years on the other side of the world. Leaving Home is what Leah and Sophie do as well, in very different ways. Sonnenberg weaves a fine tapestry of people, place, time, and loss, that will stay with me for a long time. ( )
  HeathMochaFrost | Oct 2, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When I started this book and realized it was being written from the point of view of a house I almost gave up. I stuck with it, and it did get better as the narrators changed. The story was interesting enough - an expat family has trouble dealing with a loss and feeling grounded in light of not having anywhere to call home. This story seemed to be going in a few directions and it never came together for me. It is hard for me to enjoy a book when I can't connect with the characters, and this is what happened with Home Leave. ( )
  Jillian_Kay | Sep 2, 2014 |
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The members of the Kriegstein family deal with their tumultuous existence as their patriarch, Chris, accepts jobs around the world that bring them across North America, Europe, and Asia, until an unimaginable loss adds a permanence they never experienced before.… (more)

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