The English American by Alison Larkin

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The English American by Alison Larkin

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Katherine Stanton
Reviewed by Katherine Stanton
Summary: A semi-autobiographical story about an adoptee's quest for identity. It's heartfelt and original but would have benefited from better writing.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1416551591

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Alison Larkin's first novel is the story of Pippa Dunn; a very British 29-year-old who has known for years that she was adopted but then discovers that her birth parents are American. Pippa embarks on a much-needed journey of self-discovery, moving to America and getting to know the family that gave her up when she was a child. The story is based upon Larkin's real-life experience of being an adoptee and the novel is a spin-off from her one-woman comedy show of the same name.

Instead of the expected heartfelt memoir of an adoptee meeting her birth parents, The English American is an absolute whirlwind of a novel. A true tale of two cities; set in both London and New York, Pippa is constantly back and forth between the two, physically and emotionally. Pippa is a strong main character, a true Englishwoman, with a love of musicals and the occasional bar of fruit & nut. She is unselfconscious, clumsy and a woman you would love to know.

Unfortunately for Pippa, her adopted family are none of the above, which causes her to yearn for the people she thinks will understand her; her birth parents. She writes letters to her birth mother through the adoption agency and after some detective work, manages to recover a phone number. Pippa's mother is almost too good to be true, what all little girls occasionally wish their mothers were - utterly gregarious, a redheaded enigma, an over-enthusiastic artist and an over-enthusiastic mother. Pippa's father is a high-ranking businessman in Washington D.C. and within him she finds a counterpart for her Broadway-loving soul. However, Pippa's idyllic new discovery doesn't remain idyllic for long. The English American is wonderfully intuitive of love and relationships, the beautiful parts as well as the difficult times which sadly can sometimes be conjoined.

According to her website, Larkin's comedy show "takes an honest look at the divide between them and us", referring to England and America. A lot of this "honest look" was included in the novelised version, but it's hard to tell whether this was a good choice. Larkin talks about America, a lot. After this book, if she wanted a job on the American tourist board there would be no need for an interview. At one point, she even criticises England to make America look better (Pippa's father even uses the cringe-worthy phrase Come to America, kid. In America, you can be who you are.) Is Larkin hoping to woo British audiences? If so, she's not doing a terribly good job of it.

Talking of cringe-worthy, cheese and cliché make a big appearance in this novel. The book is reasonably enjoyable until this happens; On the ride back to Billie's house, Jack and I don't speak. It's a comfortable silence. The kind you have with someone you've known for years. Larkin! No!

There are other annoyances - constant 'that would never happen in Britain' observations and happy little coincidences that Pippa and her long lost mother/father/brother have in common. It's cute that you and your mother eat bourbon biscuits the same way, but it's just unbelievable on top of all the other 1,342 things you have in common.

Regardless of my complaints, the originality and addictiveness of Pippa will keep you reading. Larkin treats you to a hugely powerful ending which will have you pouring over every page. The English American will fill you with incredible warmth as it highlights the importance of childhood and those who were in it as well as the importance of home and those that make you feel at home.

Larkin is a comedienne, not a novelist and this shows. The book leaves you wondering what events were autobiographical and what was added for comedy value and dramatic effect. There are too many instances that leave you thinking, 'That would never happen.' The English American is a powerful story, with a good quality plot but you can't help feeling that it could've been written better.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then we think you might also enjoy All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown.

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Buy The English American by Alison Larkin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The English American by Alison Larkin at


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