Things We Couldn't Explain by Betsy Tobin

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Things We Couldn't Explain by Betsy Tobin

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
'Summary: Things We Couldn't Explain is a charming book, a coming of age story that takes bizarre, magical occurrences and weaves them into the story of a young couple falling in love. An easy and delightful read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 420 Date: November 2014
Publisher: Accent Press
ISBN: 9781783753086

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Jericho, Ohio - 1979.

Annemarie is a clever, funny and spirited girl. Born with sight, she turned blind as a child, but more than compensates for her disability. Living amongst the small-town folk of Jericho, she has a relatively standard, suburban life, schooled at home but more than friendly with many in the town - especially her charming neighbour Ethan.

All is calm, until one day Annemarie finds herself pregnant.

She also happens to be a virgin...

All that would be interesting enough, but shortly after the pregnancy is discovered, a clear image of the Virgin Mary starts to appear in the sunset, causing Jericho - an already very religious town, to split - half the town claiming that Annemarie's pregnancy is a sign of god and a new immaculate conception, whilst the other half claim that it is a genetic abnormality.

Whilst they do sound extremely dramatic, the above events are really just the backdrop for the main plot of the book, which focuses on the growing relationship between Annemarie and Ethan. It's a tender, charming love story between two awkward, fumbling teenagers who have no idea what they are doing, and it's really quite lovely to read.

It seems to me that teen romances always seem to star teenagers who are horribly self aware, well read and always ready with a sardonic, witty quip. Ethan and Annemarie instead feel very real indeed, somewhat confused, and utterly baffled by both the goings on in their town, and what is happening to Annemarie.

In addition, Annemarie's blindness is brilliantly portrayed. This isn't an 'Issue' driven book - she's more than aware that the blindness is part of who she is, and more than compensates for it. She's no tragic heroine - just another teenager who struggles with growing up, falling in love and dealing with attention, even if the circumstances in which she does these things are somewhat heightened.

The characterisation is marvelous - the main characters are all relatable and realistic - if not all likeable, and whilst religious fervor does build up, those swept up in it are never portrayed cruelly or disdainfully.

On top of all of that, the denouement is incredibly touching - the writing is beautiful, and will bring to mind anyone's teenage days - full of hormones, confusion and misplaced anger.

I'd say that this is one of those rare books that can be enjoyed equally by both parents and teenagers. Whilst not my normal cup of tea, I found it absolutely delightful - both heartwarming and thought provoking.

Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

One book that I was frequently reminded of whilst reading this was The Wrong Boy by Willy Russell. Whilst Things We Couldn't Explain lacks the laugh out loud humour of The Wrong Boy, both are touching, intimate and accurate looks at growing up.

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Buy Things We Couldn't Explain by Betsy Tobin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Things We Couldn't Explain by Betsy Tobin at


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