Title: The Half-Brother
Author: Holly LeCraw
Publisher: Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House Canada
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
When Charlie Garrett arrives as a young teacher at the shabby-yet-genteel Abbott School, he finds a world steeped in privilege and tradition. Fresh out of college and barely older than the students he teaches, Charlie longs to leave his complicated southern childhood behind and find his place in the rarefied world of Abbottsford. Before long he is drawn to May Bankhead, the daughter of the legendary school chaplain, but when he discovers he cannot be with her, he forces himself to break her heart, and she leaves Abbott—he believes forever. He hunkers down in his house in the foothills of Massachusetts, thinking his sacrifice has contained the damage and controlled their fates. Nearly a decade later, his peace is shattered when his golden-boy half brother, Nick, comes to Abbott to teach, and May returns as a teacher as well. Students and teachers alike are drawn by Nick’s magnetism, and even May falls under his spell. When Charlie pushes his brother and his first love together, with what he believes are the best of intentions, a love triangle ensues that is haunted by desire, regret, and a long-buried mystery.
The Half-Brother by Holly LeCraw is a story of family and of love, romantic, filial, and impossible. It’s the story of a complicated family. This particular family is secrets, but yet devoted love and understanding. After getting a dream job and starting his life after school, Charlie Garrett uncovers a dark secret that demolishes his relationship with his love, May, and sets him on a path of lies, secrecy, and self-loathing. Years later, he is joined at the school by his half-brother, Nick Satterthwaite, an ex-veteran who suffered tragedy in war, but who finds fulfillment and camaraderie in teaching. He is also joined by May, the very woman he left so quickly and with little ceremony.
Charlie is an interesting character. He’s nothing out of the ordinary in that he’s a teacher and a love of literature. He really put me in mind of Dead Poet Society. But he struggles. Although he cares deeply for the friends and family in his life, Charlie is plagued by the secret that haunts him and struggles to let go of it. Charlie isn’t the only one with secrets. His brother, Nick, has secrets so great that it nearly tears their family apart. Likewise, their mother hides things from the boys, hoping to shield them from unnecessary worry, that result in the failure of her health.
The relationships and interactions between the characters in this story, drive the pace, so it’s quite a fast read. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I just had to find out what happened. The story is narrated by Charlie so we really get to know him in depth. We see his compassion, and his self-hatred. We see his disgust and his tolerance. We learn about the complexities of his relationships with others. I would have liked to get to know the feelings and thoughts of other characters, especially May and Nick. They both have incredible stories as well, stories of incredible hurt and struggle, that I don’t feel are completely well-represented by Charlie’s narration. We don’t get a full understanding of these characters, but Charlie is quite insightful and does provide an accurate portrayal.
The only thing that got to me a little bit is that I found Charlie a little too self-sacrificing. As much as he faces some hard-to-stomach issues, he wallows in them rather then sharing them with people who might help him move past it. Instead, he steps aside to allow others to find enjoyment. He seems to find contentment in sacrificing himself for the happiness of others. He doesn’t really do anything for himself. While I understand that there are many people who give so much of themselves to those they love, with Charlie, because the focus of the story is so central on his life, he comes off as just too selfless, if that can even be a thing. It stops being believable after a while.
Charlie’s demenour does not take away from the intensity of the story. There is a lot of tension and a lot of darkness. LeCraw has a talent for luring you in and then slamming you with a shocking twist. It’s incredible. She sets you on a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
Lastly, the setting is absolutely beautiful. These characters live in a romantic town in a quiet, yet fulfilling life. I can see myself ending up in a city like this one day…one can dream anyway.
I really enjoyed this one. If you like a good story about gritty family drama, this one’s for you.