Review: The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh by Jenn Stroud Rossmann

512d1j1jarl14-year-old Chad Loudermilk is at the center of The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh. Although he is only one of a number of point of view characters that we follow, he is like the hub of a bicycle wheel, and all of the other characters are like the spokes that intersect there. They include his father, mother, and aunt. Like many teens his age, he’s trying to figure out who he is. This is complicated by several factors:

1. His best friend has transferred to a different school.

2. His parents are teetering on the edge of divorce.

3. He is adopted.

 

Oh, and an extra complication? He is black and his adoptive parents are white.

A lot of things unfold around Chad. They touch his life, and they affect him, although they are not usually incidents he’s been directly involved in. One of the trickiest things about this book is describing it without giving major reveals away. There are stories that involve smacking the reader on the nose straight out of the gate with action or a situation that’s clearly significant for the reader. Although Chad’s journey begins with him being driven to jail to pick up his dad, this book starts quietly. Each point of view character is established and they start their own journey, and at the center Chad is what connects them all. How they interact with him, how their choices impact his life and how they affect his journey is at the core of the story.

You could say this is a story about figuring out who you are. You could say this is a story about forgiveness. You could say this is a story about acceptance. All of those statements would be true. In many respects, The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh will mean different things to different readers, because it touches on so many different issues affecting teens, parents, mothers, fathers and friends.

This is, for me, what I call a thinking book. It isn’t about the events so much as it is a way of making people think about their own choices and their understanding or lack of understanding of the significant people in their life. I never realized forgiveness weighed so much. Jenn Stroud Rossmann infuses the story with profound insights gleaned from everyday things, like hummingbirds eating from a feeder and water flowing around rocks in a stream, and holds these insights up like a mirror to the reader, letting us see something of ourselves we perhaps had not previously defined or understood. Stroud Rossmann weaves the strands of the story together patiently and sets the stage for the way Chad’s life is reshaped, and how the lives of those he’s closest to are changed forever.

Now, I often start books without reading a description, so I go in cold and have to figure a story out on its own merits instead of seeing if it meets my expectations. In this case, it felt a little slow in the beginning, but it was well worth the pay off. I was at once both happy and sad for Chad, and disappointed and hopeful. Stroud Rossmann has eloquently expressed an understanding of identity that informs the choices the characters make, and ultimately who they will become as a result of those choices.

Stroud Rossmann doesn’t try to gloss over complex issues with easy answers and there are some things the reader will have to make up their own mind about, but that’s part of the magic of this novel. The characters are living beyond the page for me as I weigh whether or not X did this or that. Some things are left to our imaginations and for each of us, each outcome may differ.

“But in the end, Kara said, it was okay painting and packing, and it was really fun picturing their new house, imagining all the new people they’d meet in the new place. A fresh start. You could be anyone; you didn’t have to be the girl who used to wear a retainer and whose Mom gave her a spiral perm. You could start over, with a clean slate.”

Check out the books on Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s To Be Read pile!

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