By Ekta R. Garg
November 30, 2016
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
A teen tries to initiate her plan for a new life and family only to find herself working hard to keep up with her lies. As she navigates challenges, the girl will have to decide whether freedom from an over-protective parent is worth all the new trouble. Debut author Rebecca Bischoff fortifies her first book with her professional background in the slightly clunky but mostly compelling novel The French Impressionist.
Rosemary arrives in Nice, France, with a single objective: to start over in a new life. She’s done all her research. The family she’s chosen has posted on a blog about accepting aspiring art students on a summer exchange program. Her best friend has backed up her fake travel plans in front of her mother, Darla. Even Darla’s boyfriend helps out by loaning Rosemary the credit card she uses to book her flight.
Many kids who run away do so because of neglect, but Rosemary definitely doesn’t have that problem. She’d be mortified if any of her friends in school knew that even though she’s 15, her mother still does her hair. Darla is the one who insists they share lunch at school every day, and her mother is also the one who locks her in her room every night. If there were an Olympics for helicopter parenting, Darla would win the gold every single time.
She has to admit, albeit begrudgingly, that her mother has some cause for concern. Because of a motor speech disorder, Rosemary can’t talk like most people do. Her brain knows all the words and always offers her snappy comebacks. She just can’t get her mouth to move at the same speed or with the same efficiency. So she gets that her mother worries.
But the worrying has driven her nuts—and out of the house. Rosemary packs her things and goes to Nice for a summer of art, never mind that she doesn’t even know which end of a paint brush to use on a canvas. She moves into the home of Sylvie and Emile, a charming couple whose son suffered tragically in an awful accident. Rosemary knows she’s the perfect candidate to slide into the son’s place. She certainly doesn’t discount the importance of losing a child, but she also knows that she can’t go back home. No matter what happens, she’s not leaving France.
However, now that she’s dealing with people face to face, Rosemary finds herself teetering on the tower of lies she’s built. She’s in danger of losing her footing, thanks to the creepy old lady and her menacing son who live next door to Sylvie and Emile. The incredibly annoying family visiting from Texas doesn’t help either, never mind that their son is cute and her age.
Rosemary doesn’t want anyone intruding on the new life she’s trying to build for herself. The longer she stays in France, however, the more she realizes that lies make for a shaky foundation. If she really wants to establish a new life, at some point she’ll have to find something solid to build it on.
Author Rebecca Bischoff’s professional work as a speech pathologist shines in this book. She shows with a great deal of honesty Rosemary’s emotions and frustrations with herself as well as those around her. Readers in her target audience as well as older readers will appreciate whole sections of Bischoff’s prose. She uses fresh phrasing that delight as much for her word choice as for taking the story forward.
The book could have used one more round of light editing. Rosemary tends to spend a great deal of time acting out her frustrations with minimal consequences. Sylvie and Emile come across as sweet, affectionate, and possibly too tolerant. After all, they’ve invited a complete stranger into their home and let her exhibit what is, on the surface, flat out rudeness.
Also, while Bischoff makes a clear point about Darla’s dread, the memories that surface late in the book for Rosemary feel a little rushed and forced. Weaving them into the narrative with more subtlety and a little earlier would have helped them come across as a natural part of Rosemary’s story instead of as a necessary plot device. Along with that, the climax also feels like it got crammed into the story. Rosemary makes a choice that could potentially ruin someone else’s life and doesn’t stop to think through the consequences of that choice, which is hard to believe given today’s overload of information. The book would have benefited from someone helping to untangle the knots so the tension could remain taut without seeming overly complicated.
For the most part, however, readers will enjoy Bischoff’s debut novel and will almost certainly read the last line wanting only the best for Rosemary. I recommend readers Borrow The French Impressionist.
(I volunteered to write an honest, objective review after receiving a review copy of this book from the publisher.)