Monday, April 12, 2010

REVIEW: Best Bet by Laura Pedersen


Since Hallie's father died and left behind ten children, money at the Palmer household is tighter than ever. And just when Hallie thought she was graduating from college, it turns out she's four credits short. A professor needs one more student for a project that will take her around the world, only longtime boyfriend Craig has another proposition for Hallie.

Thus begins Hallie's great odyssey, for the first time she ventures outside the safety of Cosgrove County and the sixty-mile radius in which she's functioned for her entire life. But somehow, escaping home doesn't translate into leaving behind all of her problems, and, unfortunately, not all can be solved by putting her superior gambling skills to work.

Eventually, it's time to return home to all the good people who are great at driving each other crazy. Hallie must finally face the biggest decision of her life.

Humorous and heartfelt, Best Bet underscores the importance of friends, family, and a sense of belonging. The characters in this modest, but neighborly, small town prove that an ordinary existence made up of small but genuine moments can satisfy a soul that's hungry for life in all of its glories and disappointments.

About the Author
Bio from her website

Laura Pedersen was born in Buffalo, New York (one of "God's frozen people") in 1965, at the height of The Folk Music Scare. (For details of misspent youth see essay at 'Is there a Nurse in the Church?'). After finishing high school in 1983 she moved to Manhattan and began working on The American Stock Exchange, a time when showing up combined with basic computation skills could be parlayed into a career. She chronicled these years in her first book, Play Money.

Having vowed to become anything but a journalist and with no conception of what a semicolon does, Laura spent the better part of the 1990s writing for The New York Times.

In 1994 President Clinton honored her as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans. She has appeared on TV shows including Oprah, Good Morning America, Primetime Live, and David Letterman.

In 2001, her first novel, Going Away Party, won the Three Oaks Prize for Fiction and was published by Storyline Press. Beginner's Luck was published by Ballantine Books in 2003 and subsequently chosen for the Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" program, Borders "Original Voices," and as a featured alternate for The Literary Guild.

Pedersen's other novels include Last Call, Heart's Desire, and The Big Shuffle.

Laura lives in New York City, teaches reading and trades Yu-Gi-Oh! cards at the Booker T. Washington Learning Center in East Harlem, and is a member of the national literary association P.E.N. (poets, essayists and novelists).

My Thoughts

This book was the conclusion of a four-part series. I read and reviewed the first book Beginner's Luck recently, and have now read the last book in the series. I did not read the two books in between.

The series covers the life of Hallie Palmer. In the first book, she is a teenage gambler who quits school and tries to find her own way and clear her sullied name.

In this series finale, Hallie is anticipating college graduation and a new life with her longtime boyfriend Craig, when she learns that she is short a few credits due to no fault of her own. She embarks on a journey around the world as part of a sociology project for school to earn her degree, and learns a little something about herself and the world while she is at it.

Hallie is still a likable character, and somewhat identifiable for me. I identify with her "tomboyishness", her logical mind and detached emotions that observes the world often with a perplexed shake of the head, and yet maintains a quick wit and humor.

Pastor Costello, whom she secretly gambled with in the basement of the church as a teen, has now taken on a new role in her life. Her brothers and sisters are growing up and moving away to begin lives of their own. Her mother has begun a new life after losing Hallie's father a few years before (in one of the books I didn't read).

Hallie is facing the same question that so many others are facing in this day and age: Is the cost of higher education worth it? In a time when college graduates are finding themselves waiting tables or working in department stores to survive, will the financial investment pay off for her? She may find, as others may find, that sometimes it may pay off in ways that you didn't expect. Or perhaps the education will help you in a career that you didn't have planned.

And often you have to go away to find, just like Dorothy, that "there's no place like home".

As before with Beginner's Luck, this was a sweet story. I have to say: Thank God that the chimpanzee Rocky wasn't as prominent a character in this one, as the whole concept of him really annoys me! There is pretty good character development here. I can "see" the characters in my head, and feel I really know them and "get" them. Some of the storylines and character interactions are a little over the top. The characters can tend towards extreme stereotypes, but the story is enjoyable nevertheless.

I think that I enjoyed this one a little more than the first one. There seemed to be a little more "meat" to it (and less Rocky). However let me note that you do not have to have read any of the preceding books in the series in order read this one.

My Rating: 8 out of 10


Staci said...

I'm glad that you couldn't hear me gasp when I read that you started with #1 and then skipped 2,3, and read #4...I couldn't read a series out of order even if I tried!!!! This one does sound interesting though!

Liviania said...

In the world where people with college degrees wait tables, I don't want to be the person without even that.

Heather said...

Staci- I was offered book 4 to review, and then offered book 1 as well. I read book 1, and then I wanted to get book 4 reviewed as promised. So I skipped the two middle books. But they really do stand on their own just fine!

Liviania- Absolutely! In this economy, everyone who is lucky enough to be employed just has to be happy to be employed-- period! But in Hallie's world of booming economy and growth, the last she wants to find is that the $100,000 she has spent on higher education is just thrown away and wasted as she flounders around doing "whatever" she can instead of what she's been trained to do. A lot of people are finding themselves in that same boat these days. There is lots of talk that the high cost of higher learning may no longer be worth it in many cases.