Laurentian Divide

Why is it that, when I usually think of a sequel, I hear that corny “wah-wah” sound effect in my head. I expect to be disappointed. But then, something like “Laurentian Divide” happens, and suddenly, my faith is restored. A follow-up book can not only be good, it can be excellent.

“Divide” does what a good sequel should. It fills in details and updates on the characters that we love, but also tells a compelling story of its own. Sarah Stonich did a perfect job of picking the characters from "Vacationland" to highlight in its follow-up. I couldn't help but root for each person to find fulfillment as the story unfolded, and Stonich delivered, with the raw and willing sense of reality she brings to her work.

This narrative takes place over the course of just a few days, in the run-up to widowed Alpo and diner waitress Sissy’s wedding. Not only do we experience “all the feelings” with those two characters, we also follow along as one character struggles with alcohol addiction and as the town experiences growing concern over one of its missing citizens.

If you read “Vacationland”, the first installment in this series, and didn’t hope against all hope that Pete, Alpo’s son, would be the main character in this new book, I can’t help you. He was clearly the man to call to the plate this time around, and not surprisingly, his story was a homerun. No spoilers here, but I can almost guarantee that you will be rooting for him through every painful, struggling moment of his story. Alpo and Sissy provided good supporting characters in my read, although other readers may gravitate towards one of them instead of Pete. They are given equal screen time.

This idea of a smaller cast of characters being central to the story worked well in “Divide”, but did provide a startling contrast to “Vacationland”. The literary magic of the first book came from the oddly named chapters, the different character focus in each one, and Stonich’s ability to put it all together into a story we cared about. In losing that for the second book, the story took center stage. The effect of that decision is hard to pin down. Some of the magic may be gone, but the narrative flow only increased. A win or loss is for the individual reader to decide.

Not lost in “Divide” is Stonich’s very special ability to develop a character, to show who they are in the everyday decisions they make. There are surely big moments in this story, but I found that the small ones were the revelations. There is in “Divide” an understanding of the bittersweet realities of life, an acceptance of the good and bad that comes with the simple act of living. I closed the book feeling the contagious contentment of the people on the pages, and that is quite a gift.

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