The Lauras by Sara Taylor was another writers week discovery for me. This novel follows a mother and child on a road trip across the US. A pilgrimage to rediscover past friends, to right old wrongs and find a fresh start. Your typical road trip story of cross-generations discovery? Not quite, this book has a little extra something that makes it stand out from the rest. I’m giving you fair warning that I will be discussing a potential spoiler below so story reading if you want to discover it for yourself. Personally, this extra piece of information was what made me decide I wanted to read this book, however, I’m aware others may prefer not to know.
Okay, all ready for spoilers? Good, because you have been warned. The trick to this book lies in the offspring in this book, Alex. You see Alex does not identify with a gender. Sometimes Alex is just like her mother. Sometimes she identifies with the traits of her father. This gender neutrality is not a problem for Alex, which is one thing I like about this book. Nether is it a problem for Alex’s mother. It is other characters that the book comes across that can’t seem to comprehend Alex’s neutrality. That want to put Alex in a box. That have a burning desire to know what anatomy lies below Alex’s jeans. Which, by the way, the reader never discovers either and so they shouldn’t. This novel makes the point that is doesn’t matter what the outer shell of the body shows. What matters is what is is Alex’s mind, what Alex wants. This is a defining feature of the novel and in my opinion what really makes it. The reader doesn’t realise straight away, Alex’s gender neutrality, as the book starts when Alex is young enough that gender doesn’t need to be identified. Despite knowing this about Alex I still found myself picturing Alex as more feminine, perhaps because that is my own gender and what I identify, perhaps because for the most part novels that focus on the relationship between mother and child tend more to be books about mothers and daughters? Either way, it is still interesting that I subconsciously still attributed a gender to my metal image of this characters. It goes to show just how ingrained the impulse is to categories people as male or female. Taylor shows us great insight into a minority of people that many of us don’t know a lot about and perhaps need to understand so that we, ourselves don’t continue forcing choices on them, making them feel as though they are odd ones out, because they aren’t. They are ordinary people just like all the rest of us.
I loved the concept of the Lauras, where the title came from. Each of the characters from Alex’s mothers past were named Laura and we slowly hear about them as their journey slowly passes. We meet so many interesting characters on the road with Alex, all so fascinating that I suggest going and reading about them yourselves. I think this provides an excellent point of view that we can all consider, that each of our parents are more than just our parent. They were people before us. People with hobbies and interests and beliefs that may have fallen to the wayside with children, but that still shaped them as people. We should all be mindful of that and attempt to understand those that brought us into this world. You see themes of puberty, growing up, privacy and sexuality all deal with as Alex comes of age on the road.
There is so much to ponder within the Lauras, from the story at the superficial level to the deeper issues that are brought to the surface within these pages. Overall, this is a captivating book with beautiful prose and an urgency that develops to know what happens. I loved the ending, how it all came full circle for Alex. Personally I would recommend this book to anyone. I give the Lauras four cars taking Alex across the US.