The Key to Everything by Valerie Fraser Luesse (BTSNBM)

Alabama Bookshelf | Alabama Living Magazine

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange to a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Valerie Fraser Luesse’s latest work of fiction is a good coming of age concept that gets a bit lost along the way. Peyton Cabot, a Southern teenager, is currently experiencing the aftermath of his father’s stint in the military and his mother’s grief over these goings-on. His father, Marshall, tries to drown his war trauma in bottles of bourbon, but has so far been unsuccessful. One afternoon when Peyton and his family are at the annual Cabot family picnic at his paternal grandparent’s estate, Peyton’s father has a tragic accident involving a high-strung horse, a tree, a bottle of alcohol, and a dog chasing a squirrel. While the entire clan of Cabots are in the hospital waiting room arguing about what will happen to the inheritance if Marshall, the heir, dies, Peyton’s grandfather suddenly has a stroke and dies instantly. As time moves forward, Peyton will find himself evading his relatives, meeting a long-lost family friend, and embarking on a journey that will change his life forever. To find out how it ends, read the book! The plot and storyline in this novel are average, but not for the usual reasons. The fast-paced storyline gives the reader a lot of information that is delivered through backstories, historical facts, and fact-filled conversations. The major errors in this aspect of the novel include the abrupt shift from a family drama to a coming of age tale, and the way the book loses the reader’s interest as the story continues. Firstly, around a third of the way through the book it’s almost like it changes genres. (spoiler) One minute Peyton is sitting by his father’s deathbed, the next minute he’s in Florida on summer vacation with his Aunt Gert, then he’s embarking on a bicycle quest through the Florida Keys, and the next thing you know he’s taking in orphaned children and falling in love. This being said, it’s hard to understand which one of these four plots is supposed to be the main one. If they are intended to be subplots that tie together, then the author should have taken more time to develop her large cast of characters. Additionally, the dialogue in this novel is above average but doesn’t reach it’s full potential, and Peyton’s character arc falls flat when the author doesn’t state what he learned from the bike quest – especially after she made a big point to reference his search for meaning. Thus, on the whole the plot and storyline feel thrown together and needed closer attention.

Character Development (1.5 points)

The characters in this novel are mixed, with the protagonist being one of the weakest ones. It is hard to get to know Peyton on a personal level as he is thrown about by the confusing plot structure, and most of what we do know is told to us by the author. It would have been better to let readers discover who he is on their own, rather than stating personal traits and interests directly as though we are reading a biography. This being said, the heavy-handed narrative style of writing Luesse uses in this novel acts as clutter that crowds out opportunities for character depth to be developed. Peyton’s mother also feels partially developed as we hear a lot about her from others but don’t get to see her in action very often. Moreover, while the colorful Aunt Gert is a bright spot in the humdrum cast of minor characters, she gets lost in the sea of people in this novel who have only a few lines. In short, while there is some good in every character, it feels like they exist only to connect the dots of the storyline.

Creativity and Originality (.5 point)

Lastly, it was a creative idea to portray how multiple crises effect a teenager mentally and emotionally, but because this idea remains unfinished, Luesse earns only a half point in creativity. As such, we cannot recommend this novel as being good material for Christian film, but believe that Luesse can improve as time goes forward because of her ability to craft original ideas.

Wish List Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

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