This book is on many people's lists of the best books of 2009. I have been wanting to read it for quite some time. This one is going to be difficult to review.
A GATE OF THE STAIRS follows the coming-of-age of 20-year-old Tassie Keltjin in the months following 9/11. Tassie is a small-town girl from farm community attending a local college. In order to get a little extra money, Tassie applies to be a babysitter for a 40-something chef/restaurant owner who is adopting a child with her husband. After a few failed attempts, the couple adopts a mixed-race child. The social, class and racial pressures surrounding this adoption in the post 9/11 landscape form the backdrop of the story. As Tassie experiments with first love and her newfound independence, she is confronted with unexpected secrets from the people around her that have heartwrending consequences for everyone involved.
Many reviewers have described this book as a coming-of-age tale with lots of heart and humor. Others have focused on the dichotomy of small-town farm life versus college-town life as seen through the eyes of Tassie Keltjin. Still others have pointed out the complexities of race and class as seen through the adoption of the mixed-race child. The book is all of those things. However, I had a hard time with the book because I had no connection with Tassie. I did not find her to be compelling or particularly interesting character. She merely served as a construct for getting us through the story. The book itself is heartbreaking. So many secrets and so much loss. It was hard to get through in an emotional sense.
BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. It grieves me to say this but I was disappointed. I think the subject matter is interesting and Moore brings up a lot of compelling issues in the post 9/11 world. However, the fact that Tassie was not an engaging character really damaged the book for me. Tassie needed a bit more personality. Maybe even humor. Moore does a terrific job dealing with some tough issues but overall the book left me cold.