Ringing with the changes from the deceptively placid 1950s to the turbulent 1960s, from the picturesque New England island of Martha’s Vineyard to the bloody jungles of Viet Nam, The Uneven Road is a sophisticated coming-of-age novel that intersects with historical events of this period.
The second book of Linda Cardillo’s award-winning series, First Light, is written with verve and intelligence. Cardillo carefully constructs The Uneven Road with rich characterizations, diverging and interlocking plot elements, and fine attention to detail that explores family dynamics and the search for individual identity.
This gripping saga continues when Izzy, Mae and Tobias’ seven-year-old daughter, contracts polio. Their twelve-year-old boy, Josiah, feels responsible not only for his sister’s pain, but all the troubles in his small world. Jo’s conflicted feelings escalate when he realizes that Mae’s island property, Innisfree, will be sold to pay for Izzy’s surgery. Even though he loves Izzy and wants her to walk without crutches, his parent’s cold-blooded willingness to part with Innisfree drives Jo to smash an important symbol of his past, the ceremonial Wampanoag drum bestowed on him by Tobias, and then runs away to Boston, where he stays with his Irish uncle, a policeman. Finally he enlists in the army, winding up as a medic on the killing fields of Viet Nam.
Cardillo’s precise writing adds credibility to the vivid scenes that take place in Viet Nam where Jo struggles with the necessity to kill the enemy while charged with saving lives. Later, the author, again, deftly describes Jo’s very different experiences when he returns to the US, where he hangs out in a commune. No matter, Jo maintains his family contact mostly through Izzy, now in college on the mainland. Back on Chappy, Mae, going through her own changes, longs to see her son again. His journey home with Izzy and her friend Grace will re-connect him with his people, both Irish and Native American, and reveals to him that he and his mother are more alike than they ever thought possible.
Captivatingly infused with often raw emotions and haunting memories of race, heritage, culture, and family dynamics, The Uneven Road, scatters its characters over time and place and draws them back together again with enduring values of family love and respect for heritage.