Aoibheann Sweeney’s debut novel, Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking, is the best coming-of-age novel I’ve read since Melanie Rae Thon’s Iona Moon.
Miranda Donnal lives with her father, a reclusive classicist translating Ovid’s Metamorphosis, on Crab Island off the coast of Maine. Miranda’s mother died when she was three, and Miranda has been raised mostly by her father and Mr. Blackwell, a Native American Indian who cooks, cleans, and nurtures the family when he is not fishing for a living. The relationship between the three is loosely-defined and delicately complicated as Miranda grows up.
The novel, like the passage from Crab Island’s channel to the dock at Yvesport, is driven by the undercurrents of what is felt but not said. When Miranda is sent to New York City to work at the classical institute her father co-founded, Miranda moves through poignant observations (families like to humiliate each other) to attraction (that full, pull excitement—that secret feeling, throbbing inside of us while the rest of the world stayed quietly oblivious) to intimacy (nothing had seemed interesting until there was someone listening).
Full of the rich symbolism of Greek mythology and peppered with keen statements about love and identity, Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking explores the tension between societal expectations and individual need, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we share with others, and the courage needed to take an alternate route.