The spiral is what engaged me. At first, I was a little wary of a story in which the main character is named Sanskrit Aaron, and who has a sister named Sweet Caroline. Yes, like the song. Lordy, I thought. Not another wacky-name-character book. I proceeded with caution, and one eyebrow raised.
It is therefore proof of Allan Zadoff's storytelling magic that by the end, I was completely engaged in the world of the book, and I knew that of course these two people (not characters, people) were called Sanskrit Aaron and Sweet Caroline, and wasn't that just the whole mess in a nutshell? Not once did I even so much as twitch a supercilious eyebrow. I was too busy reconsidering my place in the universe.
See, Mr. Zadoff is a sneaky, tricksy writer (I say that admiringly). He sucked me in with zany chapter titles like: "An Israeli woman with large breasts is calling my name." Like I'm going to resist that. So of course, I thought I was reading a fun book. A funny book. A light-and-easy-lemon-squeezy book. And so it is, right up until the moment it isn't, and suddenly I found myself thinking about the place of the divine in the universe, and what we owe (or don't) to our family and heritage, and what being a mother truly means, and what it must be like to let go of someone you believe you can't exist without, and...and... All that and more snuck up on me, softly and gently, so that I was laid bare to it, and found myself provoked into feeling and thinking about things I wasn't expecting to confront on a summer morning. It was like Brecht, only without the utterly depressingly negative view of humanity.
WHEN YOU LEFT ME is not depressing. It is not negative. The characters are flawed, but you forgive them (much like you do your crabby Aunt Lucy, because you know it's her just her way). By the end of the book, Sanskrit is perhaps more alone, but he's also more free, and that sense of possibility is the best part of being a teenager, setting foot upon a path, not knowing what will come, but hoping it will be wonderful.
Philosophically challenging, yet ultimately comforting