Rooney Harris is doing her best to juggle family responsibility and her senior year of high school, but it’s a battle. Rooney’s mother, a dedicated member of the Next World Society, believes they will soon depart the Earth for a new world, a world free of Earth’s pollution and devastating climate change. With a mother who is physically present, but emotionally unavailable, and an estranged father, Rooney, must take on the role of parent and primary bread winner for herself and her brother, Daniel. Debut author Katrin van Dam has created realistically flawed characters whose actions ring true and a plot that naturally unfolds.
Rooney is beautifully flawed. She is often wrong, sometimes right, but always honest. She’s a smart young woman doing her best to act like an adult while also trying to balance high school and friendship. Her relationship with her best friend, Mercer, is the sweetest thing, and readers will easily embrace and relate to their closeness. Mercer and Daniel are Rooney’s shelter and tether, respectively. Mercer is who she turns to when it all becomes too much, and Daniel is her reason to keep going.
Daniel’s sensitivity is written into his every scene. The reader is told that he is sensitive, but his gentleness and desperation are clear through his words and actions. He’s a heartbreaking character who is trying to hold on to a splintering family. It comes as no surprise when he too falls victim to the Next World Society. Through it, he finds a troubling way to reclaim the mother he’s never really had, but in the process, loses a great deal more.
In Come November, the adults are given substantial and pivotal roles in the unfolding family drama. It becomes clear early on that Rooney’s mother is struggling with mental health issues, but van Dam doesn’t trivialize or diagnose. Instead, the reader is shown how fears and searching for a way to alleviate those fears can be all consuming. The estranged father with a growing new family is a surprisingly sympathetic character once all the pieces fall into place. This story is rooted in family. Certainly, the family we are born into, but also the families we make throughout our lives. As a result, it is no surprise when a caring teacher offers her home as a haven for Rooney and Daniel.
Katrina van Dam’s debut novel effectively weaves together a story about family, sibling relationships, first love, and mental illness with an even and enjoyable hand. There are times when Rooney’s situation seems insurmountable, and while the reader may hope for a happy ending, van Dam doesn’t wrap everything up with an unrealistic conclusion. Instead she forces her reader to confront and embrace the mess and complications of real life. Buried within this story of family, first love, and mental health issues is a warning about the environment that asks readers to consider the choices they make and how those choices impact the Earth and future generations. Ultimately though, Come Novemberis a story of family and future.