When I saw Jenna Blum, author of the powerful Those Who Save Us, had a new book coming out, I put my name on the holds list for it . . . months ahead of time. And am I ever glad I did. As you recall, one of my favorite books of all time is Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant, and as I read The Stormchasers, I couldn’t help but see there were many similarities and my experience in reading it was so similar. This has shot to my favorites list, without a doubt.
Karena is a divorcee living near the Twin Cities, and one morning, she receives a phone call from a Wichita mental health clinic saying that her brother had been admitted as a patient, and she had been listed as one of his contact people. Funny, she thought, since they had not seen or talked to one another in 20 years, as Charles fell further and further into the depths of a few different mental illnesses. Karena, though, had always wanted to rekindle that relationship — they were twins after all — so she drops everything and chooses to go to Wichita in order to find her brother.
She was too late. Charles had left before she arrived, but she had a feeling that by following his passion, she’d find him. His passion, as you might guess, was stormchasing. Karena signs up for a storm chasing tour, and quickly finds she and fellow chaser Kevin have a great rapport . . . and Kevin himself might hold the key to helping Karena track down her brother.
The Stormchasers is written in present tense, which at the onset is a bit jarring, but as the story progresses, it is the ideal method for telling this tale of love, family, and passion. Like Those Who Save Us, we are thrust into the depths of family life and challenges with loving and accepting who we are within our families and the ever-changing nature of family dynamics. Set amid the heartland of America, Blum lovingly depicts the people and places that are too often ignored in literature. But it’s not just a loving portrayal: it’s realistic and gritty, giving readers a true sense of life in a small town.
Obviously, the stormchasing is a metaphor for the family and for the relationship between Karena and her brother Charles. But it’s well-done, and it provides further for the setting, which is itself a character in the story.
I’m purposefully leaving out a lot of the plot because I knew very little going in. I will say that this story travels two distinct time periods: the present and 20 years before then. Something horrible happened in the lives of Charles and Karena on their 18th birthday — the time immediately before Charles went off radar. This again is where the stormchasing fits in, but it never felt forced nor too much like the author was trying just a little too hard.
Lest I not forget, there is romance here too, and at times, it gets a little hot. So while there’s drama in the story, there’s also a little love to resettle you. Maybe!
One issue I had with the book was the end: I thought the epilogue was unnecessary and almost condescending to the reader. After 350 fantastic pages of story, the epilogue was tacked on and did more telling than showing. I’m mostly pretending it didn’t exist in the book, since the last chapter ending fine enough for me.
Back to an original assertion I made: this book reminded me a lot of Patchett’s gem The Magician’s Assistant. There is travel among places and family secrets waiting to be revealed page after page. The development of setting is strong, and the characters each have their own quirks that make them evolve from page one to page 350 and beyond. Blum uses metaphor in the same manner as Patchett here, in a simultaneously obvious and brilliant manner. And as for me, I read it in the same way, falling deep into the story and staying up far too late to find out what was going to happen next.
I’m both sad and glad this is only Blum’s second book. Sad because I have to wait for her next one (which could take a few years, the time frame between this and Those Who Save Us) and glad because she spends the time to write something powerful and worthwhile. The Stormchasers will be staying with me for a long time, and I am excited to pass this one off to my adult fiction readers at work.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).