ARC Review : Each Vagabond by Name by Margo Orlando Littell

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Title : Each Vagabond By Name

Author : Margo Orlando Littell

Publisher : University of New Orleans Press

Release date : June 1st 2016

Rating : 4/5

Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

For residents of Shelk, a sleepy Pennsylvania town lying along a vein of the Appalachian Mountains, life has always been a series of unchallenged routines and circulating gossip. But when a group of teenage runaways settles in the hills and begins to invade their homes and lives, lines become drawn between those residents seeking to insulate themselves from the outside world and those reaching for more.

Caught in the middle of this clash is Zaccariah Ramsy, a bar owner whose quiet life is threatened by his newfound loyalty to JT, a streetwise runaway who begins to visit his bar, and the re-emergence of the tragic story of his former love, Stella Vale, whose daughter was abducted as an infant fifteen years prior. As tensions between the townspeople and the newcomers rise, Ramsy must decide which side he will choose.

A piercing tale of isolation, redemption, and belonging, Each Vagabond By Name is a powerful exploration of the intricacies of small town life by a commanding new literary voice.

Review :

Okay, I know I said I would blog about YA books, but I just finished this one, and I have to say, I liked it!

This is Margo Orlando Littell’s debut novel, and wow, it looks like she was made for this! The beginning would be considered by many a bit boring. After all, Littell is setting the context, the town’s way of thinking and the protagonist’s introduction. As for me, I like when an author describes a quiet village’s way of life, especially when he/she does it well. It sets a peaceful pace, perfect for a lazy day. Even when villagers describe the crimes, it’s told in gossips and rants, just like you’d expect from a little town.

The main protagonist is Ramsy. You get the feeling that he’s a “go with the flow” type of man; he doesn’t really have any purpose, doesn’t have anything he’s really attached to, doesn’t care much (except for Stella). For real, he’s too detached for my own liking, the kind of gruff old man who speaks in one-word answers. As for the other protagonist, Stella, she’s haunted by a loss, and that’s her drive. You’d think she would be weak, and fragile, but she’s a quiet force. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Both of them have lived through things that wrecked them and marked them forever. It’s amazing how sometimes we’re reminded of that by the way the author focuses on certain details of their life and thoughts that make you go “Oh! I didn’t think of it that way, but it does make sense.” The loss, and loneliness, and did I say loss??? are crazily well described. Oh, the loss, here. It was incredible. It’s totally relatable, but not in the way of feelings and thoughts, but more like in the needs and life experience.

The two protagonists aren’t necessarily amiable, they have more of a secondary-character personality than a main-character personality. They have a part to play in the plot, but they’re more like observers to the events unfolding around them. The spotlight, in my opinion, was put on the gypsies. The introduction to the runaways, the “gypsies”, is deliberately slow. Each chapter starts with one of their thefts, in the thief’s point of view. They are not named, are anonymous, are stripped of their identity, but what they do sometimes and how they think give them back what their lack of name brings : humanity. You suddenly remember, in the midst of what they’re doing, that they are, after all, teenagers, runaways. I easily got attached to them.

The story is kind of dull, because the main character himself is dull, so it rubs off on the reader. But Littell has that way to present an overtone, a raw truth, in a nice and aesthetic turn of phrase. And your heart tightens just a bit more, because your imagination will understand everything she’s implying. Like this excerpt :

A war medal, a bronze star hanging from a bit of red and blue ribbon. It was tarnished and smudged, as though at one time someone had held it for long hours in his hand. He shoved the medal back into the drawer. He’d seen enough. Whoever lived here had seen enough, too.

Both sides of the fight (citizens vs runaways) are well defended by Littell; the way I saw it, there weren’t really good and bad guys. You’d think the runaways would be the bad guys, because of the thefts, but just how far a normal man from a normal family would go to keep his safety will make you think otherwise. Having a character who feels like an outcast (Ramsy) paid off well, because we get the point of view of both sides. It’s a very good read about outcasts, actually, because it depicts what they can bring to a community, but not in the usual “outcasts are exceptional and they learn to love themselves, and that love will bring peace to everyone around them” way. It’s really what they can bring to their community, the real, useful addition.

All in all, The writing was very good, BUT, for me, it’s strictly a lazy day read, or else it’s kind of boring. As a 19-year-old girl, it’s not the kind of story I could directly relate to, but I imagine some people could, those who went through the hardships the characters went through. It’s a deep story of loss and belonging and loneliness, definitely what the summary suggests.

** Note : In my mind, JT looked like Jesus in The Walking Dead hahahahahah

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