Cambridge, Massachusetts, was home to Susanna. She likened her love for this place like one would love a person. And being uprooted constantly with her family, to visit places like England, Italy, and Greece, made her feel rootless. Lost.
Set in the 1950s and narrated by young Susanna, the story takes us along as she comes of age, feeling like she doesn’t quite belong, not even in her own family. Her parents are always entertaining, whether they are home or traveling, and Susanna finds a way to eavesdrop. Listening in on the conversations of grown-ups makes her feel almost like she belongs. But so much of what she hears, she misunderstands, which only heightens her feeling of being an outsider.
At the beginning of Cambridge, our narrator is around seven and is also adjusting to her new sibling, Miranda, whom she calls “the baby” for the rest of the story. As if she can pretend she doesn’t exist.
In many ways, I could relate to Susanna, having come of age in the same era. And the author has captured the emotions of a young person’s rootlessness, that feeling of being invisible. Adults do not notice her unless someone is wanting to correct her for an infraction. School is challenging for her, but not because she lacks intelligence. Boredom is her daily companion when the teachers are repetitive.
By the time the family has returned from their latest journey, it is 1960. JFK and Nixon are running for President. Susanna has reached some milestones of her own….and she has not taken them well. Her changing body emphasizes that her childhood is ending…and the confusing emotions that accompany these physical changes are a reminder. But then she leaves us with this reassuring thought: “I could revise the empty space inside me so that it had a better shape: the outline of a happy childhood.”
A poignant reminder of the importance of stability and home, the tale kept me engaged. It read like a memoir, but is listed as fiction. I suspect there is an underlying factual basis to the story. 4.0 stars.