Summary and book reviews of The Turnaround by George Pelecanos

The Turnaround

By George Pelecanos

The Turnaround
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2008,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2009,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

On a hot summer afternoon in 1972, three teenagers drove into an unfamiliar neighborhood and six lives were altered forever.
Thirty five years later, one survivor of that day reaches out to another, opening a door that could lead to salvation. But another survivor is now out of prison, looking for reparation in any form he can find it.
The Turnaround takes us on a journey from the rock-and-soul streets of the '70s to the changing neighborhoods of D.C. today, from the diners and auto garages of the city to the inside of Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, where wounded men and women have returned to the world in a time of war. A novel of fathers and sons, wives and husbands, loss, victory and violent redemption, The Turnaround is another compelling, highly charged novel from George Pelecanos, "the best crime novelist in America." -Oregonian.

ONE

He called the place Pappas and Sons Coffee Shop. His boys were only eight and six when he opened in 1964, but he was thinking that one of them would take over when he got old. Like any father who wasn't a malaka, he wanted his sons to do better than he had done. He wanted them to go to college. But what the hell, you never knew how things would go. One of them might be cut out for college, the other one might not. Or maybe they'd both go to college and decide to take over the business together. Anyway, he hedged his bet and added them to the sign. It let the customers know what kind of man he was. It said, This is a guy who is devoted to his family. John Pappas is thinking about the future of his boys.

The sign was nice: black images against a pearly gray, with "Pappas" twice as big as "and Sons," in big block letters, along with a drawing of a cup of coffee in a saucer, steam rising off its surface. The guy who'd made the sign put a fancy P on the side of the cup, in script, and...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the character of John Pappas.  How influential does he prove to be in the life of his son, Alex?
  2. The Turnaround is a story in which many of the characters undergo difficult struggles and large transformations.  Which character do you think learned the most and why?
  3. Discuss the role of family in the novel.  How does the way Alex thinks of family change after he becomes a father?  How strong a force does family prove to be by the novel’s end?
  4. How do the pressures of youth compare with the pressures of adulthood in the novel?  How large an impact does American society in the two eras when The Turnaround is set, the 1970s and the present day, have on how the characters handle...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Pelecanos raises important questions about racism, friendship, loyalty, guilt and redemption in this tightly written story that leaves the reader pondering these issues long after the novel has been read.   (Reviewed by Diane La Rue).

Full Review Members Only (984 words).

Media Reviews
Library Journal

Starred Review. A virtue of this fine novel is the author's evident love for his characters, even the lost ones.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Pelecanos shows the distinction between those capable of making that turnaround and those who can't, while exploring a common humanity that goes deeper than differences of skin color and home turf.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The result is a beautifully written and thought-provoking novel of crime, friendship, aging and redemption.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

He tells a tight, suspenseful story. And he packs enough of a wallop to put The Turnaround on an express bus of its own.

The Washington Post - Patrick Anderson

[A] mature story, told with easy mastery, and no one who cares about Washington and about excellence in American writing should miss it.

he New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio

The home truths he examines here...are familiar themes of his gritty Washington-based novels. But he has rarely pushed these articles of faith to such painful extremes or seemed so optimistic about the chances for redemption.

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