ARC Review: By Any Name by Cynthia Voigt

 

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Title: By Any Name
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Publisher: Diversion Publising
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Stars: 4/5

Summary (from Goodreads): From the award-winning author of Homecoming and Dicey’s Song comes a heartfelt adult novel perfect for readers of Judy Blume.
Rida is an orphan out of California who dances for the troops in the USO. Spencer is a naval officer with roots deep in New England’s upper crust. They meet during World War II at an Officer’s Club dance, and Spencer might have been dissuaded if he saw just one engagement ring on her finger, but instead, he sees four.

The courtship is easy, Rida wins him and wears his ring alone. But Rida is a wild card, and Spencer’s family can’t accept her unconventional approach to marriage, motherhood, and life.
Even Rida’s four daughters struggle to understand her, but for them it becomes a quest–to untangle the mystery of their stubborn, off-beat, clear-sighted, loving, and above all mesmerizing mother.

Award-winning author Cynthia Voigt has penned a novel for readers who grew up loving her Newbery Award-winning novels for children and young adults. By Any Name features an indelible woman who sees lines as meant to be crossed, changing the lives of all who come into contact with her indefatigable spirit.

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As a fan of Cynthia Voigt’s many novels for teens, such as Dicey’s Song, I was thrilled to discover this new adult contemporary. By Any Name is an historical fiction that is reminiscent of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. The story of Rida’s life is told through the eyes of her daughter Beth and really captures the era beautifully. Also, the references to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott that are sprinkled throughout the story add to its theme in a unique way.

I might be presumptuous in referring By Any Name to The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence because it is probably more recognizable to Canadians. However, By Any Name has so many timeless themes, such as aging and reminiscing that one cannot help but connect these two literary works. Voigt has created a spunky main character in Rida who exudes strength and independence in a time where women were typically oppressed. Rida is definitely inspirational and those familiar with Cynthia Voigt’s other works will find a similar well-developed fierce female in this book as well.

One really interesting aspect of this novel is that it is told through the perspective of Rida’s daughter, Beth. This point of view actually makes for a more reliable narrator, as Beth is looking at Rida’s life from the outside and has a much more accurate memory. Through Beth, the reader can get a sense of what having a mother like Rida was like and how she had a profound influence on her daughters. Beth is putting all of the pieces together about her mother’s past throughout the book and it all comes together wonderfully towards the end.

For those who enjoy classics, Little Women in particular, you will enjoy the allusions and connections that By Any Name has to this much loved novel. Rida names her daughters after the ones in Little Women and the girls themselves are definitely similar in personality to the March sisters. The shared theme of raising well-adjusted daughters adds to the flavour of Voight’s novel, as the reader can relate to the characters and story of Little Women.

By Any Name is a novel that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. The story is a unique look at women’s issues and the aging process as told by the main character’s daughter. It  is a novel that is both inspiring and sentimental, and will become a favourite of those who enjoy the genre.

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