I enjoyed this book. It was a quick and easy read and very compelling. The plot device was both entertaining and thought provoking.
This was much more of a character piece than a plot driven novel. Although Lavigne tries to make the plot a central point, it was oftentimes transparent. Very early on (before Micheal begins to read the journal), I realized that his father must have been harboring some guilt for his actions during the war. I wondered if April was actually Heshel's daughter (if Fredl's baby had survived) and was relieved that at least Lavigne did not bring the incest piece into the book. I was not surprised by the course of the plot revelations (although at one point I wondered if Micheal himself was Israel and was somewhat surprised when Heshel's letter revealed that Micheal was, in fact, his biological son). The beauty of the book was not in the surprises, it was in the way that Micheal deals with his own identity and his reconciliation with his own questions about his father's guilt and hidden identity.
My biggest complaint was the way that Lavigne exploited Micheal's memory for his revelations. I found his convenient mis-remembering (for example the time spent with Josh after Ella's epileptic fit and the forgetting of his own violin lessons) to be annoying and unbelievable. People do not really forget such details in their own lives. The whole "searching for clues" and taping them to the wall was also a bit annoying and trite.
I found the writing of the journal to be of a lower quality than that of the main text of the novel. I realize that Lavigne was searching for a different narrator and was trying to make the two voices stand apart, but oftentimes I found the journal to be expository and overall not as readable as the main text. I also did not think the letter from Lily was necessary. I think the novel as a whole would have been stronger if Micheal did not discover whether or not she knew his father's secrets.
Ultimately, the book deals with the idea of whether or not a person can really ever truly understanding another person's thoughts and emotions and motivations: "You call because you want to connect, but you don't connect, you can never connect, you can't wait to hang up, you hang up, you feel utterly alone". Simultaneously, Lavigne highlights the difficulty we all have with our own identity and happiness: "Actually, most people think I'm hilarious. But here's the truth about comics: we're depressed, every last one of us. And in my case also obsessive, neurotic, paranoid, immature, and irresponsible. But depression is the universal." However we (as people) portray ourselves to others, we all have to deal with our inner insecurities and thoughts. We all have to find happiness on our own and within ourselves.
As one who often uses her tone of voice as a weapon, I loved Lavigne's acknowledgement of this power: "something as ephemeral as a tone of voice, as nonlethal as a thing could ever be, had such a destructive force--but only, of course, on the ones who loved you."
Overall this book was well written, entertaining and very poignant. It was compelling and unfolded (for the most part) well.