Review: sold on a monday by Kristina McMorris

I started reading this book on 1/1/20 and finished it on 1/2/20. I spent two hours straight reading it, then stayed up past my normal bedtime reading--something I haven't done in quite a while. In the morning I snatched another 30 minutes reading time before going to work, read on my lunch break, and then finished the book this evening.

I did not want to put it down.

Let’s start with the title: sold on a monday. There’s something sad about a title that has no capital letters. Something childlike, something meek. Pair that with the image on the cover’s a wonder I didn’t throw the book away to prevent an emotional breakdown. Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, spoke highly of McMorris’ book...right on the cover. If Sara says the book is going to be good, it’s going to be good. She’s a literary genius.

Inspired by the true story of a Midwest mother who put her four children up for sale in Valparaiso, Indiana in 1948, sold on a monday, is a fictional account of two brothers. Young children, living in farm country, they’re outside in the yard when a report comes along on unrelated business and sees the wooden sign in the yard. 2 Children for Sale. What happens from there is a whirlwind of events that encompass a handful of people whose lives, if only minimally intertwined before, become completely integrated, dependent on one another.

The book has a prologue. My son will tell you a book doesn’t need a prologue. He will, in fact, tell me that my books don’t need a prologue. It’s one of those things that we bicker about from time to time. Neither of us win the argument and neither of us back down. In sold on a monday, the author didn’t need a prologue.

I googled the question “What’s the purpose of a prologue?” Scribendi says this:

“A prologue is used to give readers extra information that advances the plot. It is included in the front matter and for good reason! Authors use them for various purposes, including: giving background information about the story.”

I dare say the prologue in McMorris’ book was unnecessary. It did not give me extra information that advanced the plot. It did not give background information about the story. If Scribendi is the end-all, be-all regarding prologues and their necessity, McMorris should have cut the first few pages. Perhaps she was focused on enticing the reader. Intent on drawing her into the story and grabbing her immediately. Maybe. But that didn’t happen for me. I found the first two pages confusing – throwing me neck deep into the story without a raft to cling to. I didn’t know who was talking or why they were upset or who had been hurt.

As a writer, I often struggle with when, amid all the pages I’ve written, the story starts. Did I spend forty-eight pages writing backstory when the story actually starts on page forty-nine? If I’ve managed to figure out the start time of the story, I make a mess of the protagonist. Did I use the wrong point of view? Do I have a minor, supporting character on stage when he shouldn’t be? Who is the star of the story, exactly?

So, I totally understand how McMorris might have flubbed this up. The two pages of prologue that weren’t necessary filled with the musings and conversation of Lilly who isn’t the main character. An important character? Yes. A character critical to the story line? Sure. But Ellis Reed is the main star. Without him there’s no story at all. And the author knows this—or she wouldn’t have opened the first page of the first chapter with his name.

It was their eyes that first drew Ellis in. (p.5)

And, bam! I wanted to read more. Whose eyes? How many eyes? What about those eyes drew him in? Tell me more!

Kristina McMorris did just that. For 327 pages, she wove a story about these little boys and their parents. She painted a picture of a broken, dirt poor country trying to rise from the depths of poverty like a phoenix. She brushed desperate families across the canvas, newspaper reporters eager to nail a byline no matter the cost, sexism, courtship, parental forgiveness, and oh, the secrets.

McMorris’ 1931, a year when it seemed the whole world knew your worth, was filled with so many secrets. Heartache, shame, and despair knew no bounds, took no prisoners. And when I dove into the pages searching for the truths of these characters, I didn’t want to leave Laurel Township, Pennsylvania. I didn’t want the doors of the Examiner or the Tribune to close. I wanted to burn the midnight oil with Ellis and Dutch. I wanted to go on adventures with Lilly. And I wanted to know the truth about what happened to Ruby and Calvin. The real truth, the gut-wrenching truth no matter how badly it hurt.

There are so many twists and turns in sold on a monday that I can’t say much more for fear I’ll spoil the story. I’ll leave you with one question. How far would you go to feed and clothe your children?

Kristina McMorris’ is a great storyteller. If you haven’t read sold on a monday, I encourage you to pick up a copy. You won’t want to put it down and it’ll haunt you long after you read the last word.

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