Amy and Isabelle : a novel

by Elizabeth Strout

Hardcover, 1998




New York : Random House, c1998.


Fiction. Literature. HTML:Before there was Olive Kitteridge, there was Amy and Isabelle�?� �??A novel of shining integrity and humor, about the bravery and hard choices of what is called ordinary life.�?��??Alice Munro Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Strout�??s bestselling and award winning debut, Amy and Isabelle�??adapted for television by Oprah Winfrey�?? evokes a teenager's alienation from her distant mother�??and a parent's rage at the discovery of her daughter's sexual secrets. In most ways, Isabelle and Amy are like any mother and her 16-year-old daughter, a fierce mix of love and loathing exchanged in their every glance. That they eat, sleep, and work side by side in the gossip-ridden mill town of Shirley Falls�??a location fans of Strout will recognize from her critically acclaimed novel, The Burgess Boys�??only increases the tension. And just when it appears things can't get any worse, Amy's sexuality begins to unfold, causing a vast and icy rift between mother and daughter that will remain unbridgeable unless Isabelle examines her own secretive and shameful past. A Reader's Guide is included in the paperback edition of this powerful first novel by the author who brought Olive Kitterid… (more)

Media reviews

Mutter-Tochter-Romane laufen schnell Gefahr, ins Triviale abzudriften, aber Strout gelingt es, diese Klippen zu umschiffen, indem sie sich nicht klaustrophobisch auf ihre Hauptfiguren konzentriert, sondern zugleich das Porträt einer Kleinstadt entwirft, deren Bewohner mit den vielfältigsten, ganz
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eigenen Stolpersteinen des Lebens umzugehen haben.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Wow, that was one intense and emotional read.

In Amy and Isabelle, a mother (Isabelle) struggles with her 16-year-old daughter Amy's emerging sexuality. Isabelle is a single parent, focused on making ends meet and doing what's right for her daughter. But she is completely unaware of Amy's true
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thoughts and feelings, and of what she gets up to during and after school. Amy falls hard for her new math teacher, Mr. Robertson, and he takes advantage of her. The story opens after their relationship is discovered, fills in the months leading up to that point, and then addresses the aftermath of discovery.

This was an emotionally charged story on many levels. Amy's naiveté, her strong desire for independence, her loathing of parental authority, and her immaturity that led to unhealthy decisions ... these all rang true to me. And Isabelle. Poor Isabelle, trying so hard to forge a healthy relationship with her daughter, but alienating her instead, and unwittingly passing on some of her own life mistakes. As the mother of teenage daughters myself, I could feel her pain. Isabelle's response to Amy's relationship with Mr. Robertson absolutely tore me apart: a single act of uncontrolled anger nearly destroyed her relationship with Amy.

In the wrong hands, this story could be trite and overblown. But Elizabeth Strout has amazing talent. First, she writes beautiful descriptive prose, putting the reader right into the scene:
It rained lightly for two more days and then the sky suddenly cleared just as darkness fell, leaving for a few moments a strip of luminescent afterglow along the horizon from a sunset that had not been seen. ... By early morning a delicate strip of clouds high overhead looked like a thin layer of frosting spread across the side of some blue ceramic bowl. Mourning doves cooed unseen in the fine light; cardinals and hermit thrushes darted from one tree to another, calling out. (p. 246)

Strout also develops rich, complex characters and relationships. Take, for example, the women Isabelle works with in the office at a local mill:
So there were a variety of joys, large and small, taking place throughout the town, including a hearty laugh between Dottie Brown and Fat Bev as they sat at their desks in the office room, the kind of laugh (in this case regarding Dottie Brown's mother-in-law) that comes from two women who have known each other for many years, who take comfort and joy in the small, familiar expressions of one another, and who feel, once the laugh has run its course -- with an occasional small giggle still left, and a tissued patting of the eyes -- a lingering warmth of human connection, the belief that one is not, after all, so very much alone. (p. 125)

But perhaps most powerful is her unique way of foreshadowing. She'll drop a tiny detail into the story, one that seems inconsequential until she adds another tiny detail, and then another, each many pages apart. It's a bit like adding hot sauce to chili: add a drop, taste, add another drop, taste, add another drop, and suddenly your mouth is on fire. I found myself scrutinizing every tiny detail: was this one important? Where was she going with this? She's not going there, is she?! In this way she built up parallel stories of mother and daughter to an intense climax. And at that point I had to set the book aside, breathe deeply, and go hug my own daughters.
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LibraryThing member womansheart
Self-connection may occur after years of isolation ...

Last night I finished [Amy and Isabelle: A Novel]. Here is a mini-review:

Amy and Isabelle was a very interesting read, though the topic might be difficult for some readers who eschew reading about sexuality and human beings. The novel contains
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so many compelling elements, but, the element that stands out for me is the redemption of the older female protagonist in the novel, the mother, Isabelle.

As did her other most recent female "force of nature", [Olive Kitteridge] she came to trust and know herself.

The other characters are so fully realized, I felt as though I knew these people pretty well. Terrific writing about the feelings of a young girl's sexual awakening and the circumstances under which that occurs. Way more than a melodrama, as story that could be from many people's lives.

Excellent book. Five stars.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Elizabeth Strout is a master at creating female characters that grow on you as you read the story. This was the case in the brilliant Olive Kitteridge - and the case in my latest read, Amy and Isabelle.

Isabelle Goodrow was a well-meaning but insecure woman who was raising her teenage daughter, Amy.
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Isabelle felt that she was doing a good job as a mother until she discovered Amy’s affair with her teacher. Isabelle was devastated. She was torn between reporting the teacher and keeping Amy’s secret in a gossip-ruled town in which Isabelle so desperately wanted acceptance. More importantly, Isabelle felt betrayed by her daughter and jealous of her sexual escapades. Amy became a daughter she didn’t know anymore.

Meanwhile, we learn about Amy – a beautiful but shy teenage girl who, like her mother, was unconfident and tried her best to fit in. Amy did not see her mother as an expert on life, mostly because Isabelle was so reserved, and easily fell into the arms of her knowledgeable teacher. Little did Amy know that she was living a life parallel to her mother’s teenage years.

I loved how Isabelle developed from a smug, self-righteous woman to an open-minded, accepting mother and friend. As I first started to read about Isabelle, I kept thinking that she needed to lighten up. However, I realized that her quiet reserve was a front because she was always worried what people thought about her. Amy was another interesting character – Strout offered up pieces about Amy, but I did not feel any resolution to her insecurities.

If you enjoy reading about mother-daughter relationships, then I highly recommend Amy and Isabelle to you. I can’t wait to read Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
An Oprah book that I probably would have cherished when I was about 16. Strout gives each of her characters a distinct and believable voice, most especially teenage Amy, who speaks a little and thinks a lot. It's a character-driven novel, which I like, but the character development is predictable
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almost from the first page. The weather-related symbolism is a bit heavy-handed but I could've lived with the too-neat ending...if only Strout hadn't also felt the need to spell out exactly what lessons we were supposed to learn from it.
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LibraryThing member swortman
Having read Olive Kitteridge and being amazed I decided to venture into another dark and brooding Elizabeth Strout novel and wasn't disappointed. This is a book of characters. There's the brooding, yearning daughter, the neurotic guilt-ridden mother, the sad, stalward office-mates and the
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mysterious, romantic yet cruel teacher. Every one bursting with life.

Elizabeth Strout writes so beautifully it makes you wish you had a pen or pencil to underline certain passages. You can smell the fedit, yellow river running through town. You struggle with the impossible humid, scorched summer as it builds to a climax of nerves. Each word is the exact word and correctly placed. It's not offensively dramatic but helps to take the reader into a story he or she never knew was possible. No wonder she won the Pulitzer Prize.
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LibraryThing member Fullmoonblue
[Amy and Isabelle] by Elizabeth Strout

I'd never read a thing by her before, and picked this up by chance. Something about the setting called to mind Joyce Carol Oates, and so too did the promise of sexual tension between a young woman (Amy) and her teacher (Mr. Robertson). It had me expecting
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something akin to Oates' [Marya: A Life].

Now, in my opinion, Strout is no Oates. But there were moments in the book that really stood out, and which made it feel worth reading for me. Most reviewers seem to find the mother character, Isabelle, somewhat more compelling than the daughter, Amy, but I found both portraits convincing and engaging. Amy's high school friend, Stacy, is a different story unfortunately (somehow, little about that character rang true for me; her voice never seemed real). And I found the 'Fat Bev' character kind of flat until toward the end... but Strout did flesh her out (pardon) very nicely in the final chapters.

To close, I have to add that I found the taut, tense, detailed descriptions of Amy's near-obsessive teenage infatuation with her math teacher totally believable. Especially in the second part of the story, after their former relationship has undergone a sudden change. Strout evokes, with Amy and nearly every other character too, a sense of being watched: small town people watching one another, everywhere they go, eager either to pass judgment or else to go home and beat themselves up for falling short.

The only major character whose inner world we see NONE of is Mr. Robinson... which is fitting, I guess, but this reader really missed it. If he (or any male character, really) had been given any emotional presence in the story at all, I think I would have given it a slightly higher rating. Maybe their absence was part of Strout's point, and intentional, but I think it would've added an important dimension. As is, I'd have trouble recommending this book to a male reader; their kind don't come out too well in Amy and Isabelle's town, the perhaps aptly-named Shirley Falls.

3.5 stars
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LibraryThing member brenzi
A wonderful mother-daughter relationship story that brings in lots of outside characters which the author deftly develops. You really get to know these people. Mother Isabelle is a single mother bringing up daughter Amy in a New England mill town in the 60's. Amy is Isabelle's life and when she
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gets involved with her Math teacher, Isabelle is actually jealous of the relationship. She regrets that her love life is completely empty. The story revolves around this relationship, the office staff at the mill where Isabelle works, UFO sightings, a missing teenager and class struggles. Strout is a master at developing these themes and resolving, in the end, Amy and Isabelle's relationship. Excellent!
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
In the late 60s/early 70s, Isabelle and her daughter Amy live an isolated life in a small New England town. Both of them are reserved and proper and have few relationships outside of each other. When Amy is seduced by her math teacher, their relationship is shattered, and Isabelle's carefully
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constructed self-protection is threatened with destruction.

The plot sounds so Oprah-esque (indeed, Oprah produced the TV movie), but it is not as melodramatic as it sounds. What makes the book rise above the typical family-problem novel is the naturalism of the writing. Strout's prose is lyrical but not showy, and with her close attention to detail, she evokes the small town of this era perfectly. The office full of women - if you've been there, you know how well she portrays this. Isabelle and Amy are very ordinary people - not great intellects, not tortured souls, just insecure human beings. Strout never overstates her case here, not even the obvious case against the creepy math teacher. We sympathize with both mother and daughter even as we shake our heads sometimes.

The difference between this novel and the insipid Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish is that Strout is concerned with particulars, not principles. She presents a closely-drawn picture of humans in all their emotional complexity, and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.
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LibraryThing member TinaV95
Review copied from my Orange January thread.

I finished Amy and Isabelle last night. Not sure how to describe my initial feelings other than that it took me a while to 'get into it.' I didn't really identify with either the mother or the daughter at first. Frankly, the mother annoyed me in the
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beginning. BUT... as good books go, I ended up liking both characters, sympathizing with both and rooting for the happy ending. I also ended up reading swiftly through when I originally thought the book was quite slow going and just okay for me. Mother-daughter fiction usually makes me cry, but at least I didn't here! I wanted a reallllly happy ending for these two, but then again I'm the romantic sort who reads to escape reality and the mundane. So, if I were rating, I'd say Amy and Isabelle gets 4 to 4.5 stars from me.

Not a very cerebral review, but there it is....
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LibraryThing member kellyn
Having recently read Olive Kitteridge I decided to read earlier books by Elizabeth Strout. I read about ten pages of Amy and Isabelle when I realized I had read this before. Generally this "forgetting" is not a good sign. However I decided to keep reading and am glad I did.

Elizabeth Strout depicts
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the self-doubt and confusion of both mother and daughter as she depicts the interactions and thoughts of Amy (adolescent daughter) and Isabelle (mom). Amy and Isabelle misunderstand, dislike, love and react to each other with painful intensity; I cannot recall such a realistic portrait of the mother-daughter relationship in another book. Amy and Isabelle keep "missing" each other as each becomes increasingly caught up in their own pain and confusion. Isabelle, in trying to protect Amy, ends up alienating her and undermining what little sense of self Amy has. Amy appears without grounding or hope and finds the attention of men essential and yet destructive. Isabelle finally begins to cautiously seek friendship among her coworkers and this helps her release Amy from providing her own only source of companionship. This book is about the dreams that women have and how real life intrudes and sidetracks those dreams often in ways that bring unexpected grace and welcome connections.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I've enjoyed quite a few of the books Strout has written, starting with Olive Kitteridge, so I decided to go back to one of her earlier works,[Amy and Isabelle. I was less than enthralled. The story takes place in the mill town of Shirley Falls, Maine, which resurfaces in later novels. Isabelle
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Goodrow is a rather starchy, withdrawn woman who works as secretary to the mill manager, an older married man with whom she is secretly in love. When she moved to the town with her daughter, she slipped on a wedding ring and claimed to be a widow, but it was pretty clear to me that she was never married to Amy's father. Isabelle seems to feel that she is above the other women who work at the mill, and she hasn't really made any friends since moving to the town. Little wonder, then, that her teenage daughter Amy is also an introvert. She's a tall girl that noticeably slouches in hopes of disappearing, but her glorious head of bright blonde curls makes that nearly impossible. Aside from her lunchtime smoking buddy, Stacy, Amy pretty much keeps to herself. Like a lot of teenagers, she is withdrawing from her mother as well and resents her rules and fussing.

Enter Mr. Robinson, a substitute math teacher. It was clear to me from the start that this guy was a real creep. Besides his pretentious beard and a penchant for striking what are intended to be casual poses, he asks the students "cool" and sometimes personal questions in class. Really, is "What do you really want to do with your life?" an appropriate question for the first day in math class? Early on, he questions, "Amy Goodrow, why do you hide your face behind your hair?" Nothing like calling out a shy student's shyness in front of her peers. Amy admires him, then she hates him. Then he starts lending her books of poetry and giving her compliments. When Amy doesn't respond to the latter, he tells her, "A woman should learn to take compliments gracefully." Apparently this is the first time anyone has called Amy a woman. Pretty soon she is staying after school, and then Mr. Robertson is driving her home every afternoon, and you can guess where things go from here.

What I found disturbing, besides the details of predator grooming his victim, was Isabelle's reaction when she finds out what happened. While she is enraged at Robertson, she doesn't do much about it, preferring that no one know what happened, and instead directs her outrage at her daughter. It's understandable, especially considering what we suspect about how Amy came into being, but there is never any discussion between mother and daughter about what happened and why, on Robertson's part, it was inappropriate. Amy sees the two of them as star-crossed lovers torn apart by her mother, and Isabelle reacts by restricting Amy's freedom (but really not enough) and cutting off her hair, a symbol of her blossoming sexuality. It's obvious that Strout meant this to be an exploration of the mother-daughter relationship and Isabelle's coming to terms with her own past mistakes, but I found it hard to get over the way she reacted to her daughter being manipulated by a predator.

So, in other words, not my favorite Elizabeth Strout novel.
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LibraryThing member LauraT81
I really enjoyed this read, but I already knew the story because I'd watched the movie years ago. There is a coldness in the lives of Isabelle and her daughter, Amy, that Strout paints perfectly despite the summer heat that is described. Now that I've read this I would really like to read more by
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this author.
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LibraryThing member bookwormteri
A wonderful novel about girls growing up and how mothers try not to let their daughters make the same mistakes that they did. I was moved at times, incredibly frustrated at times, and completely identified with both characters. A great read.
LibraryThing member readingrat
The author does a wonderful job bringing each of her characters to life and making them believable.
LibraryThing member rfewell
Mother/daughter story of unwed mothers and societal expectations.
LibraryThing member missmaya
fast read, interesting, maybe not memorable, but enjoyable
LibraryThing member amandacb
An excellently-written, poignant story about a relationship between mother and daughter. The daughter begins a sexual relationship with her teacher and the aftermath is infuriating, enlightening, and ultimately bonding.
LibraryThing member grigoro
Intense story of a mother/daughter relationship.
LibraryThing member aimless22
Mother/daughter relationship in Strout's novel illustrates in the extreme just about all mother/daughter relationships. Well-drawn characters both major and minor. Some issues hit close to home and brought up memories both good and bad.
LibraryThing member bookfest
Strout's characters are so well developed. The events are woven across time and it is not until the end that Isabelle's "secret" is completely revealed. However, the ending is a winding down rather than a culmination and is a bit disappointing.
LibraryThing member karinnekarinne
What a thoroughly depressing book. Elizabeth Strout is competent and some descriptions in the novel were perfect, so it isn't that it's badly written, just oh my god I never want to read this again. I'm sure I'm supposed to get a message of hope and find that friendship comes from the corners you
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least expect it to be lurking in or something but I just want to get the time I spent on Amy and Isabelle back.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
What a great read about a repressed mother and daughter with some pretty good foreshadowing of her later book, Olive Kitteridge.
LibraryThing member lycomayflower
Amy and Isabelle arrived at a more satisfying conclusion than I expected it to as I was going along, but I was still fairly disappointed with it. The novel is carefully observed and the characters sharply drawn, but there is an air about the thing of a fiddly preciseness which sucks the life out of
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both the story and the prose. All elements of the plot--indeed, of the very sentences--slot together so cloyingly perfectly that no surprise, no joy, no anticipation, no heart, lives on the page. And life itself, in Amy and Isabelle, seems to be small, dreary, hopeless, and without joys. This is partly the point of Amy and Isabelle as characters, and there is some glimmer of hope of its lifting for Isabelle at least in the end. But by God does it make for wearisome, frustrating, teeth-grinding reading. Eat a cookie, Isabelle! Pick a flower! Do something. I do not expect, or even want, my books to be all teacups and rose petals, but I am suspicious when every character who populates a novel is less happy than everyone I know. People, whole towns, do not live like this, surely, not even in books?

In my review of Prep the other week I said that I kept waiting for Lee to grow up, and I'm itching to say something to the same effect here about adolescent Amy and her (pathetic, blind, aching) love for (creepy, smarmy, hateful) Mr. Robertson. But maybe it's the opposite that we need. Grow down! Footie jimjams and adventures under the stairs for everyone! Be happy! And don't, for the love of all things holy, lose your faith in everyone. And eat a GD cookie.
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LibraryThing member hallywog
A vivid tale of mother daughter angst. Set in a small New England town that has seen better days, everyone seems to be wrestling their way through lives that just aren't quite right.
LibraryThing member Luli81
Isabelle and Amy, mother and daughter, live in Shirley Falls, a small and quiet little town in Maine where apparently nothing much ever happens. But a lot of its people live in secret turmoil.
Isabelle has had a crush on her married boss for more than 10 years and she feels her life is being wasted
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away, and secretly, even without daring to articulate the thought, she blames Amy, her 15 years old daughter.
Amy has her own things to deal with. Brought up by her reclusive and unreachable mother, she doesn't have a lot of friends, until she meets her new maths teacher, Mr. Robertson, who starts seeing her for what she is. A very attractive young woman with "horny" needs.
While Isabelle continues deliberately to see Amy as a child, her daughter starts a clandestine and passionate affair with her teacher, becoming more and more estranged from her mother in the process. Two strangers, mother and daughter, living a lie together.
When Isabelle discovers what is going on, her made up life crumbles down and she has to face reality, a deep shock but also an opportunity to see the world for what it really is, and finally, to give it a chance to open up and dare to trust again.

Strout masters her storytelling, mixing some touches of humour with and oppressing sense that something terrible is about to happen. You can feel the characters dreads, you understand all their point of views and suffer along with them. A very human story, could be considered a light reading but if you bother to look closely, you'll see a deeply thread psychological thriller which will touch your inner strings and make you sing mutely.
Buying her next novel right now.
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Women's Prize for Fiction (Longlist — 2000)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — 1999)
PEN/Faulkner Award (Finalist — 2000)



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