30 Women Novelists You Should Know – #13 Caroline Leavitt

As I count down to the publication date of Her Own Vietnam, I’m counting up to 30 fantastic novelists you should know.

Empty-handed but not for long

I met Caroline Leavitt once, for 30 seconds. She was about to do a reading at a book festival; I was in the audience.

I planned to pick up her book after the reading, so when we met I was a little embarrassed to be empty-handed. I did buy the book afterwards, and I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be my favorite of her novels: Is This Tomorrow?

Is This Tomorrow?

In the novel, Ava Lark and her young son Lewis move into a lovely Boston suburb, hoping for a new start. Instead, they are snubbed and ostracized.

The year is 1956, and everything about Ava is wrong for her new community. She’s divorced, she’s Jewish, she works for a living – and she’s beautiful, which the local husbands have noticed. When a child in the neighborhood disappears, a child who is friends with Ava’s son and has spent time at her house even when Lewis was gone, the town’s suspicion turns sinister.

Leavitt does a powerful job of creating the atmosphere of casual anti-Semitism and rabid anti-Communism that permeates the leafy suburb. Anyone with a different style, anyone with different values, anyone Jewish is immediately suspected of being a Communist.

Ava Lark is a compelling character: lively, compassionate, bold but vulnerable. She’s the kind of outsider you long to befriend, but Leavitt makes you wonder: if you lived in that town, with its harshly enforced code of conformity, would you dare to reach out to someone like Ava?

 She’s a little busy

Caroline Leavitt keeps herself busy. She writes essays, screenplays and book reviews. She teaches writing. She maintains a lively Facebook presence and writes a wonderful blog, on which she interviews all kinds of authors. And she’s a New York Times bestselling author who has written ten novels, with another coming out in 2015, called Cruel Beautiful World.

I know where I’m going to be when that new book of hers is released. On the couch, reading and falling deeply into the fraught, luminous world created by Caroline Leavitt.

Caroline Leavitt

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