Author: Nina Stibbe
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review By: Shana
I loved this, but can readily admit that it is likely an acquired taste. The humor is cutting and sardonic, innocent and wise, slapstick and heartbreaking. Our narrator is Lizzie, who begins at age 9 and progresses, relays the story of her parents' marriage coming to an ignoble end, followed by the forced move of their newly man-less family (Lizzie, older sister, younger brother, and mother) to the country. That move does not prove to be a fresh start as they receive no general welcome given that the family lacks the eponymous "man at the helm." Through Lizzie, we witness how a steadily declining financial situation strains their new life and tests their eccentric and depressed mother.
If this sounds maudlin and melancholy, Stibbe's writing makes the story repeatedly avoid those feelings. Lizzie manages to be so precocious and wry and naive as a narrator - with perceptive, adult intelligence mixed in with swaths of childish oblivion - that the innate humor of their situation shines through the serious underpinnings. Lizzie and her sister almost immediately determine that their mother needs a new man at the helm and much of the book's exploration of their family is done through the prism of their trying to track down a man for their mother. The reader laughs, cringes, roots for, and pulls their hair in frustration as things go in predictable and unpredictable ways. All this told in a 1970s England, with economic issues cropping up for many and the fast-evolving feelings about love, sex, and a woman's place.
My love of reading was sparked in 3rd grade by the promise of personal pan pizzas via the BOOK IT! Program. Hmmmm... any chance that someone might give adults free food for reading? Asking for a friend...