Reviewed by: BigAl
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Coming of Age
Approximate word count: 90-95,000 words
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“Julie Oleszek grew up the ninth child of ten surrounded by constant commotion, which is why she loves being an elementary teacher. Julie also loves to travel, especially to the west coast and overseas, and host family parties. The Fifth Floor is her debut novel.”
For more, visit the author's website.
“Seven-year-old Anna adores the constant commotion of her large family in 1970s suburban Chicago. Anna idolizes her ten-year-old sister Liz. Together they make kites, climb trees, and play acrobatic games on their backyard swing set. One moment the two girls are playing—the next, everything changes, and Anna will never be the same.
In the constant hubbub of life in a huge family Anna’s distress is overlooked, until she completely stops eating at the age of seventeen. Fearing the worst, Anna’s mother takes her to see Dr. Ellison, a cool competent psychiatrist, who immediately hospitalizes Anna on the fifth floor of the local hospital.
Even under the guidance of Dr. Ellison and the caring staff, Anna is defiant. She trusts no one. She guards the past like her life depends on it. Will she ever share the truth so she can heal?”
It's a bit of a cliché that the protagonist in an author's debut novel often shares a lot of qualities with the author. Here, the protagonist, Anna, and author are both the ninth in a family with ten children. I suspect the author grew up in the Western suburbs of Chicago, probably about the same time as Anna, too. All of this means the details ring true. As the oldest in a family a touch smaller than Anna's, I can say that Oleszek nails the dynamic of a large family, both in how the siblings and parents interact and the differences in the experiences growing up for the younger children compared to the older.
Getting the little things right matters, especially in a story like this where those minor details set up some of the major ones, how Anna reacts to the death of a sibling and how as a younger sibling she is overlooked, eventually resulting in much bigger problems. The majority of the story is how Anna eventually comes to terms with her sister's death in this thought provoking and enjoyable coming-of-age story.
A small amount of adult language.
No significant issues.
Rating: ***** Five Stars