Find it at your library!

If you're the kind of person who enjoys reading books that have been made into movies, you should add this one to your list. Labor Day was made into a film starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, and it just so happens that it was released on DVD a couple weeks ago.

I should warn you, the film got pretty terrible reviews, with critics complaining that the source material was schmaltzy and sentimental. They questioned why serious actors like Winslet and Brolin would lower themselves by participating. Having read the book, I see their point, but I don't know why it's such a problem. People love schmaltz. If you've ever seen a Nicholas Sparks movie that didn't make you gag, you'll be fine with Labor Day

And isn't it fun to have those conversations in which you can bemoan all the ways the filmmakers misinterpreted the book or changed important details wholesale? It's a nice stroke to the ego to say, “Well, I read the book, and that's not how it was at all. The book was so much better.” All those schmucks who only saw the movie have no way to dispute your claim. (And if we're being honest, isn't the book always better?)

Labor Day centers around, you guessed it, one long Labor Day weekend during which thirteen-year-old Henry's life changes forever. Henry lives with his mom, Adele, who is crippled by social anxiety and depression to the point where she stockpiles food and supplies so she doesn't have to go into town to shop very often. On the weekend in question, Henry needs new clothes for school, so they venture out together. While they're shopping, a man wearing a shirt labeled “Vinnie” and bleeding from a leg wound asks Henry for help. Henry and Adele take the man home with them, where they learn his real name is Frank and he has escaped from prison.

Adele is an odd duck with questionable judgment, because instead of calling the police or, I don't know, not taking the strange man home from the store with the groceries, she shacks up with Frank, letting him tie her up with scarves so she looks like a hostage and trysting with him in her bedroom at night within earshot of her son. Because Henry is the narrator here, we get to read about his mom's steamy affair from his thirteen-year-old perspective, which is Oedipal and weird, if you ask me. Not the kind of Harlequin romance that would fly off the shelves. Despite the squirmy lack of boundaries in the family, Maynard gets credit for imagining characters who are as deeply flawed as they are wounded.

So maybe there's a little more complexity here than in the average Nicholas Sparks drama. Adele and Frank both have demons in their past, and Henry has been burdened too long with responsibility for his mother's happiness. Maynard proves a lot can change in one weekend.