Sally’s Rating: 3/5
Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly explores the trials and tribulations of growing up without a mother. When Julie’s mother dies, she is forced to live with her Aunt Cordelia – a spinster in the country – and learns that change is inevitable in regards to family, friends and love. At its heart, this is a tale of self-discovery and learning what it means to be a woman and a writer in the 1960s.
This book deals with serious issues like family death, bullying and growing up. Julie’s early years depict the self-centeredness of a child who believes the world is being unfair to her. Sent off to live with her ungainly aunt, she pretty much hates when anything in her life changes, especially when her sister gets married and her father remarries another woman. Her frequent temper tantrums are portrayed very realistically and capture the voice of a petulant child who has some mature and thoughtful insights into how life should work.
The unlikely relationship between Julie and Uncle Haskell is where the book excels. Her alcoholic and good-for-nothing uncle has a grumpy exterior, but he ultimately comes to care for Julie and her aspirations. Their friendship begins soon after Julie and her brother find him twilight golfing – or burying old used up beer bottles out in the country – which sets up his character perfectly. He gives Julie some advice that catapults her into the life of being a writer. For the rest of the novel, Julie must decide if she will become more like her Uncle Haskell or become another version of her Aunt Cordelia.
The book unfortunately takes a dive when it begins to focus on Julie’s love life. Early on in the book, her aunt gives her some advice that takes the book from being about a girl who is learning about life and making her own decisions to being about a girl who needs to find a man that completes her. Aunt Cordelia espouses that “a woman is never completely developed until she has loved a man; when that happens in the right way she is happy in other people’s love as well as her own; she is more generous and understanding about the feelings of others. You might say that she knows completeness.” From then on, Julie’s personal and professional lives focus on how she needs a man’s guidance and advice, which may not translate well to the modern era.
While the book started out strongly, the later focus on romance dragged the book down. Up a Road Slowly is well-written and has the feel of an early coming of age young adult novel, but I’d only recommend it to preteen girls who are dealing with personal loss, or perhaps to someone who loves angsty main characters.