In Search of Us
pp. 416 Farrar Straus Giroux
Published March 2018
When a book starts by tossing out disconnected puzzle pieces that make up the inevitable end, it is a challenge to keep reading. The energy, plot arc and tension have to be powerful enough to keep the rapt attention of the reader because, though we know what happens, the author must make us need to know how it happens.
“In Search Of Us” by Ava Dellaira (also the author of “Love Letters to the Dead”) is a book about family. For Angie, a 17-year-old young woman, her story is about cosmic timetables and the feeling of purposelessness. For her mother, Marilyn, it is about love and poignant loss. It is easy for the reader to want to take the time to fit all of the puzzle pieces back together again.
Told from the perspective of Angie in the present day and Marilyn in the late 1990’s, this contemporary fiction throws the reader into twin sets of harsh reality. As laid out by the back cover of the book, Angie is in search of answers. Growing up biracial with her white mother and the absence of a father has given her an analytical worldview that leaves her hanging on to the facts. She is constantly checking up on the number of people in the world, measuring the living up against the ghosts. Angie’s ghosts were shapeless until she finds a photograph in her mother’s drawer of James, her father, who died in a car crash with his little brother Justin.
In the 1990’s, 17-year-old Marilyn and her mother, Sylvia, have just moved into her volatile uncle’s apartment to chase her mother’s dream of her daughter making it in Los Angeles as an actress. Marilyn counts down the minutes until she can be free of the smoke caused by her mom’s crashing and burning dreams. She wants to go to college. She observes as life goes by through her imaginary camera lens until she meets James next door. The reader watches as Angie’s parents, James and Marilyn, fall in love. They learn together that life is best lived in the present tense.
Full of promise and artistic prose, Dellaria’s novel about what it means to be a part of someone’s family is worth every page. She draws readers in from the beginning, though the change in verb tense between present and past does add confusion. Dellaria makes readers desperately grasp for answers, needing to know how and why Angie chooses to go looking for long lost relatives in Los Angeles.
This book, though it contains fluffy romantic notions, also deals with uncomfortable capital “T” Truth. It is written for those who do not quite fit into their families. This book is for those whose families mean everything. It is for the photographers and the writers and the people who are not quite sure what they are yet. This love story is for those who know raw loss and those who have experienced real love. It is for those of us that are not sure about our personal ‘cosmic timetable’ or our value in the universe. “In Search Of Us” is for all of us who are still looking for the best place to exist.