Monday, September 10, 2012

We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen


* * * 1/2

The book's synopsis from the publisher:

This stunning debut novel—drawn from the author's own life experience—tells the moving story of a family of eleven in the American Midwest, bound together and torn apart by their faith
The Rovaniemis and their nine children belong to a deeply traditional church (no drinking, no dancing, no TV) in modern-day Michigan. A normal family in many ways, the Rovaniemis struggle with sibling rivalry, parental expectations, and forming their own unique identities in such a large family. But when two of the children venture from the faith, the family fragments and a haunting question emerges: Do we believe for ourselves, or for each other? Each chapter is told from the distinctive point of view of a different Rovaniemi, drawing a nuanced, kaleidoscopic portrait of this unconventional family. The children who reject the church learn that freedom comes at the almost unbearable price of their close family ties, and those who stay struggle daily with the challenges of resisting the temptations of modern culture. With precision and potent detail, We Sinners follows each character on their journey of doubt, self-knowledge, acceptance, and, ultimately, survival.
I enjoyed this novel very much and was convinced it would be another winner for me among literary writers debuts. Hanna Pylväinen most certainly displayed a significant writing talent, especially when portraying the family dynamics, within the most unusual family nonetheless.

I appreciated the most that despite the Rovaniemis family living according to very strict religious rules, the author didn't make a parody of them or their religion. Nor did she point an accusing finger at anyone. She left the choice to form opinions to the readers. At the same time, Hanna told her story, in her own way, with her own opinion to be found between the pages. No small achievement for any writer, if you ask me. The truth is, 'we' are no more normal than 'them' and just because something is unknown to the majority of society, it doesn't make it weird, unacceptable or intolerable. Every one of us in this world has something that could be perceived as 'weird' to others. If you're a reader like me, who's looking for a moral or some kind of life truth in a story, We Sinners is something you may enjoy.

I was loving every page of We Sinners...and then it ended so abruptly and with a story that, while interesting in itself, had little to do with the rest of the book and should have been a prologue instead of the ending, that my enthusiasm deflated and I ended up quite disappointed. I got no emotional closure considering pretty much every member of the Rovaniemis' and I wanted so badly to keep reading and to find out how their lives really turned out. I could not believe when turning the last page that that was it. It made me quite angry. However, Ms. Pylväinen is a very talented new writer who I believe only has to spread her wings a little wider. I will read her books as they get published with no hesitation. 
FTC: I received We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen from the publisher, Henry Holt & Co. for a review.