5-Star Book Review Club: Come November by Katrin van Dam

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ROONEY’S WINTER

Come November by Katrin van Dam is a powerful novel for every family member to read, especially those in families who need to heal a festering wound. It’s remarkable how the author created characters you can really feel for. As for the arc of the story, it gets more compelling as it goes. The chapters being grouped according to the month they occur were fantastic because they work as a countdown, which is exactly what the main character, Rooney, experiences until November 17. Then, when you add her little brother Daniel becoming a part of their mom’s Next World Society, it gets so captivating I couldn’t stop reading.

Even though there were many poignant moments I could’ve used, I forced myself to not write about each one. Therefore, my in-depth review will not have any spoilers because the examples chosen to highlight the novel’s page-turning qualities will not ruin the reading experience out of respect for the reader and the author. It’s going to start with the expertly crafted first pages, and finish off with the story propelling phone call that made Rooney sweat.

MOM LOST HER JOB

Van Dam wastes no time gripping you by the heart because the opening sentence of the book says, “Mom lost her job today” (3). Reading this, it pulls at your heartstrings since it gives off the feeling that a child is narrating this story, and by doing this, you can’t help but feel compelled to read more. Then in the next paragraph, you get this breakdown of what it means to say “lost” in this situation, ending with the narrator realizing, “So what happened today, if we’re being strictly factual, is Mom got fired” (3). But if you combine this with the information in the book’s description, you’ll know the narrator is a senior in high school, and having your parent get fired couldn’t be more dire. As if that wasn’t enough to give you the unputdownable feels, you’ll find out later on the page, the mom’s obsessed with Next World Society; the impact of this information compounds when it’s revealed Rooney came home that day to see her mom acting nonchalant, as if losing your job when you’re the parent isn’t a bad thing. Instead, the mom looks at her daughter and says, “I was going to quit next month anyway…Now I’ll have that much more time to prepare” (3). Whoa! Prepare for what?

NOVEMBER APPROACHES

If that isn’t compelling enough, you get more information that will cement the page-turning effect of the author’s prose. After Rooney asks Mom if she’s thought about her next job, the mom’s answer will floor you. Mom says, “Sweetie, please just trust me… I don’t need another job. Departure is only three months away” (4). Now, if you take the information from the book’s description, you’ll know that the big day is November 17, and since this chapter’s section is called “August,” well, now you’ll realize the mom’s referring to this date since it’s three months away. Because of this, Rooney hides in the bathroom, and the way this part’s written shows how phenomenal of a protagonist she is, and impressive, because after looking at herself in the mirror and muttering her thoughts about her mom’s irresponsible behavior, she woman’s up, realizing, “griping about it is kind of satisfying, but it’s not going to put food on our plates, so I take a deep breath, splash my face with cold water, change into a clean shirt, and head out” (4). But as you learn about the backstory and how she must take care of her little brother Daniel in every way, it becomes even more riveting since the author makes you root for Rooney’s heart wrenching situation she must overcome.

THE PHONE CALL

You’re probably wondering as I was, where’s the father? Is he dead? Did he abandon them? Well, you find out in August’s chapter two. First, Rooney grabs a small white card she’s been hiding underneath her socks (11). It seems like nothing, but it feels like it must be important, and not just some indiscriminate card. Fast forward to page 13, and the card is now sweat-creased after she asks her best friend to use his phone. The peculiar part is, she shows the card to her best friend, and he reacts like this, “His eyes widen…‘Are you sure?’” (13). And of course, you can feel the tension increase since Rooney isn’t sure. The best friend even offers moral support. But Rooney wants to speak privately on the phone, so she goes toward the park. The eeriness of the description for her surroundings adds more depth to the situation and showcases the author’s beautiful prose, but it’s the internal monologue that really shows her mental state; she thinks to herself, “Does he even work there anymore? Will he take my call?” (13). With trembling hands, she pushes herself to mentally prepare, and calls. The courage it takes to make this phone call is immense, making you root for a positive outcome.

The conversation ensues, her and her father reconnect and they plan to meet up during a trip to New York, which is related to the fact that Rooney decided to go there with her mom to participate in a Next World Society recruitment drive. Therefore, after the phone call, you get the full sense of Rooney’s anxiety during this scene. Her feelings for all of this comes out as she narrates, “When I hang up, I’m sweating like I’ve just run five miles. And not because it’s ninety-five degrees out” (15). This adds to the heartbreaking information you’ve already learned up to this point. On page 16, the scene intensifies when her mom reveals she wants to bring Daniel along to participate in the NWS’s recruitment drive. Thankfully, Rooney has the common sense to tell her no, and reminds her that “he’s only nine years old” (16). Phew. She saves Daniel from that, but it’s not over. Rooney carries so much for her family, and it shows when she thinks, “I’ve spent the day trying to decide what to tell Daniel about Dad. The thing is, we never talk about him. If it weren’t for Mom leaving me no choice, I never would have called Dad. I don’t know whether Daniel even thinks about him. And the last thing I want to do is stir up a bunch of uncomfortable questions for him” (17). As the scene develops, later on the page, you’ll realize how special Daniel is because after she tells him she doesn’t want him to go and that she doesn’t want to go either, he takes time to think about his response. “Then he says, ‘I think it’s good that you’re going. You can keep an eye on Mom. She seems like she’s getting worse’” (17). After this, you’ll feel like letting this story pull your heartstrings wherever it wants, since you’ll want to know how this whole thing pans out, especially for Rooney and Daniel’s sake.  

BEFORE YOU DEPART

From this point on, it just gets more compelling. When you meet other Next World Society members, it really hits you that this cult leader has convinced people from diverse backgrounds to believe his idea that November 17 will be the day of their departure from Earth. There are so many moments that grip your attention while pulling at your heart, I had to cut myself off from writing more about them because it would require spoiler warnings since I don’t want to ruin the reading experience. Let’s just say, the book is so well written, you’ll be swept away by its flawless pace while trying to control your emotions so you can keep up, particularly if you’ve had a similar family situation.      

This book’s depth comes in many forms, like several touching realistic moments about family and the struggle to maintain the familial connection after your parents’ divorce during your formative years. Then, once you learn the details behind Departure, you’ll share Rooney’s eerie feeling regarding November 17. Next World Society is such a well-crafted fictional cult; it’s like a mix of Heaven’s Gate, Ancient Alien theory, direness of global warming, and a dash of Easter Island. It’s actually quite fascinating since the problem the cult leader uses is real, but the solution is farfetched, so when these come together, it becomes mind-boggling how people of all backgrounds get hooked into cults of all types.

As for the arc, even though the countdown to November 17 is a heartbreaking must-read, it’s the aftermath that really makes the story special since it shows Rooney’s strength, and the author uses it to introduce life lessons that many people in various stages of life need to learn or remember. Pascal’s wager! I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of Blaise Pascal’s philosophical argument, and this book uses it beautifully in more ways than one. Come November by Katrin van Dam is a profound young adult novel written so anyone in a similar situation doesn’t feel alone while being disappointed by the most important people in their life.  

Thank you for reading our in-depth book review about Come November by Katrin van Dam. We are not affiliated with the publisher, but here’s the link to pick up a copy.

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E. R. Sanchez is the author of Fried Potato Press’ first young adult thriller, Petaco Dreams, which will be released Fall 2024 after the rewrite, new title, and new cover. He also has poems and stories published online and in print. If you’d like to read his work that was published online, please click here to go to his Stories and Poetry Section.

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