"My American follows the lives and loves of Amy Lee and Robert Vorst: from a chance childhood meeting to the [...] trysts that follow. A baker's daughter, Amy has dreams of becoming a writer, whilst Robert is destined to be a doctor. Later, embarking on a lecture tour, Amy is reminded of 'her American' and endeavours to find him amidst Depression-era America."
Fans of the work of Enid Blyton and Nancy Mitford will find Stella Gibbons' work something to truly treasure. Gibbons typically combines the disparate skills of her two contemporaries into something that is simultaneously touching and witty, and My American is no exception. Setting us up to root for the underdog, Gibbons mixes Mitford's acerbic wit with Blyton's standard plot pattern (whereby the goodies and baddies all get what they deserve) to create something truly unique.
While perhaps not groundbreaking, My American proves a comfortable and satisfying read, which is intensified by Gibbons' unpredictable twists and turns and an increase in our desire to root for the initially plain and introspective heroine. The sometimes wet and dreary London setting is contrasted with the lovingness of Amy's foster family and the adventurous and romantic Vine Falls in America, and wherever we are in the novel, the author always manages to completely and utterly transport her readers. We feel that Gibbons truly puts something of herself into aspiring writer Amy, expressing feelings about the act of writing to entertain an audience that are completely authentic.
Balancing dialogue and description with finesse, Gibbons is also commendable for her skills in terms of concision and pace: she jumps between different settings and characters with ease, never once allowing the reader to feel like one situation is being dragged out or that we are torn from another too soon. Equally, information is always revealed carefully, with the ending being a surprise almost right up to the moment of it happening, which is a big plus for those disappointed by certain twenty-first century chick lit.
Gibbons is just as powerful in her expression of devastation as in her expression of happier moments, and even though the suspension of disbelief is at times required while reading her novels, that precept does not apply to these moments, where she successfully manages to hit the reader right between the eyes every single time. Serious, beautiful, visual, precise and rereadable, what My American does provide is a strong plot, memorable characters, and a little life lesson to take away for everyone who reads it: that with a bit of luck, even if there is some suffering and hard work along the way, and even if we have to wait a long time for it, there is every chance that our dreams can still come true even when all hope seems lost and the whole world seems against us. Blyton-esque indeed.
A full list of works by Stella Gibbons can be found here.