An absorbing and moving page-turner

I experienced some initial difficulty sinking myself in Mac's narration. But I was soon hooked and unable to pull myself away from what proved to be an absorbing page-turner.

When Madeline Was Young is a moving story of a Middle American family, and Mac is a narrator who is easy to like. In fact, all the characters in this book are likable.

It is eldest child Mac's story of when he was young, and he is using the hook of his parents and Madeline's relationship to tell us what he learned about love.

The story that unfolds is a reminder that coming of age can take a lifetime. For Mac, this story can be told in his relationship with his mother, with Madeline, and with his cousin Buddy. Mac, who knows Madeline as a sister, narrates the story, and the focus is more on how Madeline affected Mac and his family.

Madeline had married Mac's father Aaron, who incidentally met Mac's mother Julia at their wedding. Madeline and Aaron settled into domestic bliss, the young bride who loved cooking and planning to mother eight children. Then tragedy struck. A bicycle accident puts Madeline in a coma with multiple injuries, including permanent brain damage. This results in her losing her memory and personality.

When Madeline returns home from the hospital, she was essentially a seven-year-old child in the body of a 25-year-old woman. Now Mac is suddenly too aware of the odd situation.

Meanwhile, Mac's mother Julia, a nurse, cared for Madeline in the hospital. Julia and Aaron ate together in the hospital cafeteria. After Madeline returned home, Aaron invited Julia to see the museum in which he worked as an ornithologist.

The two grew closer. As time went by, Madeline and Aaron divorced, Julia and Aaron married. Mac is a sympathetic character. His inaction, his calculated blindness are his flaws, but author Jane Hamilton is clever enough that these serve to make him real, rather than dull.