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Harper Lee and Peppermint Candy
By Paula Hennessy
Reviewed by Madeleine Maccar
Harper Lee and Peppermint Candy follows three generations of women but shifts its primary focus between Addie, whose easy-life lucky streak is nearing its end with the discovery that she has late-stage cancer, and her granddaughter, Megan, who begins the novel as just another messed-up teenager holding everyone around her emotionally hostage before realizing that her years of attention-seeking antics have sent shockwaves through her extended family. Megan's mother, Laura, has been prone to wildly repellant histrionics since childhood; the family assumes this toxic proximity could only result in a train wreck of a child, a suspicion that is more or less confirmed when Laura's departure coincides with the beginning of Megan's remarkable turnaround.
This is a brave little novel that taps into its multi-faceted characters' potential to tactfully approach uncomfortable truths: Some people are legitimately struggling with psychological issues while others are bored and craving the drama that arises from an illusion of mental illness; choosing between palliative treatment for maximum quality of life and aggressive medical procedures that offer any chance of a greater quantity of days is a decision that only the individual facing his or her mortality can make; the allure and, eventually, sobering price to pay for living in denial; some people are woefully unfit for the parental roles they've assumed; family can be redemptive and ruinous in equal measures. Author Paula Hennessy drew on her experiences working in a children's psychological unit to celebrate both the human capacity for change and the far-reaching benefits of increased self-awareness, both of which greatly contribute to the believable duality of her characters. Harper Lee and Peppermint Candy is a heartfelt, optimistic-without-being-treacly tribute to how one person can leave a lasting impression on others, sometimes for the worse but oftentimes to a staggeringly positive effect.
Out of 10: 8.1