Review: Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Know Not Why coverHowie’s social life is suffering, along with everything else not going on in his life.  Howie’s back home, living with his mom. He hopes his support will help her adjust after the car accident that caused the death of his dad. But  leaving school and his hopes behind has left a fierce void in his life.  He lacks a girl friend, a job, even just a motivation to get out of bed every day.  So when the idea comes to him that he can find girls by getting a job in a craft store full of girl employees then he acts on it.  Sounds great, right?  But getting a job at Artie Kraft’s Arts ‘N Crafts doesn’t work out quite the way Howie thought it would.

Sure there are some cute girls working at Artie Kraft’s Craft store, but neither is what he expected.   Sure Kristy, blonde, bubbly, adorable Kristy, seems perfect,  But she is oblivious to Howie’s charms, more friend than date.  And Cora?  Wild, tiny,  super pierced, fierce force of nature Cora?  No, not to any stretch of Howie’s imagination would that work.  And then there is his boss, store owner Arthur Kraft.  Arthur just confounds Howie.  Howie is only a few years younger than Arthur but Arthur seems so much older in outlook and actions.  Arthur just rubs Howie the wrong way, sure the guy is cute and all.  He is kind and knowledgeable and very gay.  So why is the very straight Howie spending all his time thinking about Arthur?

Who knew that a small time craft store could cause such an upheaval in Howie’s life?  Everything starts to change whether Howie is prepared or not, including himself.

I had been hearing good things about this self published story by Hannah Johnson but I was unprepared for how much I really liked it.  Before I knew it, I was heart deep in the lives of Howie, his friends Amber and Mitch, as well as Arthur Kraft, and all the employees of Artie Kraft’s Arts ‘N Crafts.  Johnson’s narrative is witty, light hearted and topical.  The dialog of the characters just snaps with the verve and idiomatic phrases of youth.  What fun, what joy in characters and a story well told! Oh how I enjoyed that.

Know Not Why is told from the point of view of 22-year old Howie, English Lit major at a community college.  Howie is an intelligent, somewhat sarcastic young man. A verbal acrobat who is bitter over his current situation, Howie makes an amusing, snappish narrator. His is a voice that overflows with current cultural references from indy movies to popular songs, throwing in lines, plots and authors most likely found among the syllabuses for English Literature majors at college.  Think about a narration along the lines of Ferris Bueller, and you can begin to get a feel for the type of flow you will find in Know Not Why.

But Howie is not the charming, immensely likable Ferris Bueller, not by a long shot.  One he is older and his living situation is far more serious than Ferris’.  A tragic car accident has cost him his father and his mother is still mourning the loss even as she supports them through a new terrific career as a romance writer and teacher at the same community college Howie now reluctantly attends.  He has a wonderful relationship with her, the same goes with his best friend Amber.  But as a young man desperate to connect with the opposite sex, he comes across as a little sketchy in his approach and lack of understanding to women outside his small circle.

One of the elements I appreciated about Johnson’s characters as well as story development is that we go from a superficial understanding of Howie where he is almost a smarmy, self centered sort of individual to a deeper, more layered character that evolves as more and more details about his situation and past history surface.  And the revelations about Howie keep pace with the growth of the character as working at the craft store and its employees have a marked affect upon his life.

All the characters that Johnson has created here are well crafted and thought out.  Where certain people, Kristy and Mitchell come to mind, could have been so stereotypical in their personalities, these characters come across as layered, and realistic, although it may take a while before the reader realizes it.  Kristy is such an effervescent, naive personality that disliking this character would be the equivalent of kicking kittens.  No matter how much one might be inclined to disparage even the very idea of a Kristy, the character wins you over with unexpected depths and charm of this person.  I can say much the same for all the characters found here.  Superficially they all appear to be one thing, yet as the story develops, so does the superficiality disolve from each one to reveal the well rounded persona that has existed there all along.  Even minor characters like a Heather Grimsby achieves authenticity by the end of the story.

Know Not Why charts the personal and emotional growth of not just Howie, but many of the secondary characters around him.  In a realistic fashion, the events that happen take place over a year’s time.  And the emotional upheavals that happen to each character here are those that naturally occur as relationships change and evolve.  Life is about change, whether you want it to or not.  And whether you are ready for the change to occur or not.  Mothers move past grief and get ready for a new love.  Friends and your relationship with them will never remain in stasis no matter how much you want things to stay the same.  Howie has to deal with all that and more, including his sexuality and love for another man.  Its funny, howlingly so at times, irritating, and so slow in acceptance you could swear you saw a turtle doing laps around Howie as he ponders his attraction towards men in general and one in particular.

And that brings me to the two elements that some readers will find exasperating.  The first is Howie’s narration.  Its long, self involved (at least to start off), constantly rambling,  and assured of its own relevancy and intelligence.  So much so that how you relate to Howie and his personality will reflect in how you feel about this story.  If you love a main character’s almost non stop gamboling storytelling format as well as a well defined realistic personal growth, I think than you will love Howie and his story.  If you lack the patience to deal with this sort of personality and long, rambling style to the point of what may seem self indulgence, than you might be quick to give this a pass.  It’s all in how you relate to Howie.   Love him, love the story.

Secondly, for me at least, there is the length.  I think that it could have been edited downwards, making the story more concise and sharp in tone and format.  In my opinion, Howie rambles on a little too long as the same things are gone over several times in the narrative when, in my opinion, just once would have sufficed.  I understand the author’s need to give full voice to Howie, but wish her inner editor (and perhaps her outer one as well) would have let her cut away some of the excess verbiage to let the many gems found here shine more brightly.

I found Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson so enjoyable that I am now off to seek out what others stories she may have written. I certainly look for more from this terrific author and definitely recommend Know Not Why to y0u all.  It’s a fun, enjoyable read full of characters and dialog that just  sparkle.

Hannah Johnson can be found at http://alaskanandromeda.blogspot.com

Charmingly simple cover, with its yarn heart.  Loved it.

Book Details:

ebook, 317 pages
Published April 23rd 2012 by Smashwords
original title Know Not Why: A Novel
ISBN13 97814