Summary and book reviews of Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout

Amy and Isabelle

By Elizabeth Strout

Amy and Isabelle
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  • Hardcover: Jan 1999,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2000,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

With compassion, humor, and striking insight, Amy and Isabelle explores the secrets of sexuality that jeopardize the love between a mother and her daughter. Amy Goodrow, a shy high school student in a small mill town, falls in love with her math teacher, and together they cross the line between understandable fantasy and disturbing reality.

When discovered, this emotional and physical trespass brings disgrace to Amy's mother, Isabelle, and intensifies the shame she feels about her own past. In a fury, she lashes out at her daughter's beauty and then retreats into outraged silence. Amy withdraws, too, and mother and daughter eat, sleep, and even work side by side but remain at a vast, seemingly unbridgeable distance from each other.

This conflict is surrounded by other large and small dramas in the town of Shirley Falls--a teenage pregnancy, a UFO sighting, a missing child, and the trials of Fat Bev, the community's enormous (and enormously funny and compassionate) peacemaker and amateur medical consultant. Keeping Isabelle and Amy as the main focus of her sharp, sympathetic eye, Elizabeth Strout attends to them all. As she does so, she reveals not only her deep affection for her characters, both serious and comic, but her profound wisdom about the human condition in general. She makes us care about these extraordinary ordinary people and makes us hope that they will find a way out of their often self-imposed emotional exile.

It was terribly hot that summer Mr. Robertson left town, and for a long while the river seemed dead. Just a dead brown snake of a thing lying flat through the center of town, dirty yellow foam collecting at its edge. Strangers driving by on the turnpike rolled up their windows at the gagging, sulfurous smell and wondered how anyone could live with that kind of stench coming from the river and the mill. But the people who lived in Shirley Falls were used to it, and even in the awful heat it was only noticeable when you first woke up; no, they didn't particularly mind the smell.

What people minded that summer was how the sky was never blue, how it seemed instead that a dirty gauze bandage had been wrapped over the town, squeezing out whatever bright sunlight might have filtered down, blocking out whatever it was that gave things their color, and leaving a vague flat quality to hang in the air-this is what got to people that summer, made them uneasy after a while. And there were ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The story of a single mother and her teenage daughter during one fateful year, Amy and Isabelle illuminates the complexities that lie at the heart of the first, and most intimate, relationship in our lives. The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's exploration of the ties that bind mother and daughter, and the secrets--about the past and present, about love and sexuality--that simmer beneath the surface.

In the small New England town of Shirley Falls, the arrival of Isabelle Goodrow and her infant daughter, Amy, stirs a bit of curiosity. Declaring she is a widow simply in search of a place to earn a living, Isabelle is accepted--if not embraced--by her ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Strout lays out her teacher's charms as clearly as his caddishness, and her portrait of a young woman stumbling on the shattering power of lust--her own and others'--balances delicacy with frankness and breathtaking acuity. In the end, it is Isabelle who stays with the reader; devastated by her daughter's betrayal, riven with regrets over a life left largely unlived, she must somehow make amends to herself.

Kirkus Reviews

A lyrical, closely observant first novel, charting the complex, resilient relationship of a mother and daughter...In less sure hands, all of this would seem merely melodramatic.

Author Blurb Alice Munro
A novel of shining integrity and humor, about the bravery and hard choices of what is called ordinary life.

Reader Reviews
Trish
hey. I am in the middle of reading this book, and so far its realy good. I hope the ending is as good as it shoukd be! Thanks, and ill do another review when im finished with the book!

brianna

I have throughly enjoyed this book and i think that every mother and daughter should read it. It discusses the complex relationship they share and how it can keepthem together or tare them apart

Anonymous
Sarah Cowan
The novel Amy and Isabelle was beautiful in the sense that it portrayed life as it is, not as we hope and imagine it to be. It reveals truth and reality in such a way that we can relate as the readers. Its message clarifies life's truth-...   Read More

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