After the Falls by Catherine Gildiner is the first selection of our newly formed bookclub on Facebook (thanks for the copy, Marci!). I hadn't read Gildiner's previous books (one novel, one previous memoir) and wasn't sure if I would be able to get into this one without having read one or both of those, but I was quickly captivated by her engaging writing style and the fascinating recounting of her "coming of age" years.
The story begins when Cathy is thirteen years old (oh, those awkward, formative teenage years!). Her parents have decided to move from Niagra Falls, where she was rasied in the family home that has been used for generations, to suburban Buffalo so that their spirited daughter would have a place where she could focus on her studies and generally stay out of the trouble that often found her in Niagra Falls. Cathy has no plans to change her nature despite the fact that her location has changed, and it's not long before she's up to her old ways in Buffalo. As her teenage years unfold, we join her as she lobbies against the statues of black jockeys that grace many lawns in Buffalo, learns about what really goes on during fraternity meetings, and goes off to college with the intent of changing the world. We are with her as she falls in love for the first time, and we are with her as she learns of her father's heartbreaking medical diagnosis that will change her family forever.
Let me tell you why I loved this novel. First of all, even though this is a memoir, it reads like fiction. In fact I frequently forgot that I was reading a memoir and not fiction while I was devouring her words. The things that Catherine Gildiner has experienced rival the things that I could ever hope to experience in my lifetime. She guides us through the 60's in a far more interesting way than history books could ever hope to. Second, Catherine Gildiner allows her readers to get into her head as she writes. I felt that I was alongside her as she experienced her teenage years.
Just a note: it is absolutely not necessary to have read her previous memoir in order to fully appreciate this one. After the Falls has the power to stand alone. It is also not required that you have more than a general knowledge of the 60's to read this either. My knowledge of that period of time is very basic, yet I felt as if I were living history through her words. I especially loved reading about her experiences with sororities in college. What a wealth of knowledge, and how things have changed since then!
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Buy or borrow?: If you're a memoir fan, I would buy this one. It's a great one to add to any collection!
Recommended to?: Memoir fans, anyone interested in the 60's, and those who have read Gildiner's previous memoir and enjoyed it.
Read again?: I would give this one a second read. It is a book filled with rich stories, many of which deserve a second read to absorb them.
Challenges: 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge 2010