Book Review Cinnamon Girl by Lawrence Kessenich
North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc. Fiction 233 pages
Cinnamon Girl, the debut novel from award winning poet and playwright, Lawrence Kessenich, is a poignant and compelling story about a young man and his group of friends as they come of age in the American midwest during the height of the Vietnam War era.
John Meyer, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is fighting his own war on an asymmetrical front. He is in the process of leaving the halcyon days and secure cocoon of his conservative suburban family. Meyer questions his entire belief system, as he finds himself drawn into the radical politics of the anti-war movement, new friends, a love affair, experimentation with drugs and a new lifestyle. He struggles to come to terms with the plethora of choices he must make in the face of events that occur at a dizzying pace.
Kessenich skillfully and accurately depicts a thoroughly engaging, nuanced and multi-layered story of a classic love triangle. the overwhelming rush of first love and an impossible relationship all set against the backdrop of social unrest, political upheaval and the tumultuous events of the times.
He writes through a lens of adult wisdom about a much younger version of himself and the dynamics of Meyer’s family life, and his relationships with parents and siblings while they all struggle to maintain balance as the once secure ground is shifting underfoot.
Kessenich’s skill as a story teller is bolstered by his ability to vividly describe events and carefully develop multidimensional characters with the keen eye of a realist. I became so enamored of the characters and so engrossed in what was going on in their lives, that I did not want the book to end.
I connected with Cinnamon Girl on a deeply personal level because of my own life experiences and familiarity with the history of that specific time and the location of the events depicted in Kessenich’s novel. However, given the current political climate and the societal divisions that exist, protagonist John Meyer serves as an Everyman whose story could just as well be happening right now. I think Cinnamon Girl is a story for the ages that examines universal questions about growing up and awakening, adult decisions where nothing is black and white, the responsibilities that come with freedom; and the insecurities, moral conundrums, and choices a young person faces as they move into adulthood. Cinnamon Girl guides the reader through a twisting, turning, up and down journey of self discovery, triumph and defeat, and ultimately redemption. It’s a thought provoking and emotional read; a trip down a rabbit hole that eventually leads back out into the warm sunshine.
About the author:
Lawrence Kessenich has written in a variety of genres, including poetry, plays, short stories, novels, screenplays and essays. He won the Strokestown International Poetry Prize in Ireland in 2010. Other books include Age of Wonders, (Big Table Publishing, January 2016) Before Whose Glory, FutureCycle Press, 2013) and Strange News, (Pudding House Publications, 2008) Lawrence Kessenich lives and writes in Boston MA.