Elliot Barrow is a man of ideals. The founder of Ponderosa Academy, a school for Native Americans, he is a paragon of virtue. But when he is critically injured in a horrific fire, his family, colleagues, and friends begin to unravel the devastating catastrophe at the heart of his life.
SET ME FREE is full of those who love Elliot: Amelia, his sixteen-year-old daughter, who has never imagined the violent, tragic truth behind the legacy of her dead mother; Helen, Elliot’s first wife, visiting the academy to direct a production of The Tempest; and Cal, Elliot’s closest friend and bitterest rival. Then there is the matter of Willa Llewelyn, hurtling across the country in a wheezing Volvo. She has never heard of Ponderosa Academy or Elliot Barrow. But she is vital to the great, beguiling mystery haunting Amelia, Helen, and Cal.
In its frank depictions of friendship, fatherhood, race, class, love, and devastation, SET ME FREE is moving, incisive, and above all, wise.
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My Thoughts on Set Me Free
If my records are correct, I have now read all of Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s books, including The Effects of Light, Bittersweet, and June. In short, I have now experienced the author’s growth from her first book, The Effects of Light, to her latest, June. Writers usually have a struggle with their first book, and then pick up speed and a singular voice as they continue writing.
It is interesting and curious that Set Me Free, Beverly-Whittemore’s second novel, is my least favorite. As a reviewer, it is my job to share with you why.
With her other three books, Beverly-Whittemore captured my attention immediately. In this book, it took some time to get into the premise and learn where the story was going. There are many characters in Set Me Free. Were it not for the jacket telling me who the narrator is I would have struggled to figure this out. It is also a little strange that the “voice” chosen by the author seems to come from a distant place, a place so quiet it’s almost hard to hear that “voice.”
An interesting facet of Set Me Free is the use of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by the head of a school operated in Oregon’s high desert country near a Native American Reservation. The underlying theme in this book is somewhat similar to the theme in The Tempest.
Despite my nitpicking above, I found Set Me Free frank, funny, incisive, moving, and wise. I believe there are those who likely feel this is Beverly-Whittemore’s best or near best of all her books. Like movies, one film does not fit all. Neither does one book suit all. I suggest you pick up a copy and decide for yourself where it ranks among the four books written thus far by Beverly-Whittemore.
About the Author
I write novels. My fourth, JUNE, will be out from Crown Publishing on May 31, 2016.
My third novel, New York Times bestseller BITTERSWEET (Crown Publishing, May 2014), is set at the home on Lake Champlain where I spent my summers as a little girl. But that’s where the resemblance to life ends—the place, renamed Winloch in the book—is inhabited by a family of bad people. I wrote Bittersweet for people like me, who love The Secret History and The Emperor’s Children; it’s a literary beach read.
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