Growing up in a spooky mansion in a small Appalachian town, Henry Aster is no stranger to loss. His deeply troubled father, who spends much of his time drinking and writing a book no one thinks he’ll finish, is sent over the edge when tragedy strikes the family. And just like that, he’s gone.
Henry fades away from his mother and sister when he leaves for college. There, he falls in love with a girl who’s determined to find her biological father. And as he stands beside her through the struggles she faces, he has a revelation about his own family that lures him back home.
First off, I cannot believe this is a debut novel. The writing, the storyline, the characters … everything about “The Barrowfields” feels authentic and exquisite and familiar. It is written in such a natural style. As Henry becomes a man and reflects on his father’s abandonment, he has these little flashbacks of the days and months before his father left.
It hit me so hard when I realized the irony of Henry’s relationship with his girlfriend, Story. She longs to know who her real father is. Meanwhile, Henry’s loss of his father shapes the decisions he makes. Rather than looking out for his mom and sister after his dad leaves, he abandons them, too. And as I read, I kept waiting for him to make the connection.
These are characters that I couldn’t help but care about, and the desolate, backwoods setting really settled into my bones, much the same way it does for Henry. He loathes the place where he grew up, yet he can’t stay away.
“The Barrowfields” is a heartbreaker of a book, a story of the tenuous threads that hold a family together and how they can be threatened by grief, depression and abandonment. It’s a tale of broken promises and redemption, shot through with unexpected moments of levity. It’s a must-read that has all the makings of an enduring classic.
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
About the author
Phillip Lewis was born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, where he served as editor in chief of the Campbell Law Review. He now lives in Charlotte. THE BARROWFIELDS is his first novel.
Bio and photo courtesy of author’s Goodreads profile