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Book Review: Carpe Diem, Illinois

Carpe Diem, Illinois. Kristin A. Oakley. Mineral Point: Little Creek, April 1, 2014, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 284 pages.

Reviewed by Paige Doepke.

Carpe Diem, Illinois explores familial relationships, teenage angst, the modern-day educational system, and journalistic integrity all in a concise and compelling story. It follows Tali Shaw and Leo Townsend, who are totally unrelated characters, except for the fact that they are both entering the town of Carpe Diem, Illinois for the first time in the same week.

Tali is brought there when her mother, Alexandra, is in a near-fatal car accident and must recuperate at the Carpe Diem hospital. Leo is a struggling journalist who hopes to give his career a second wind by covering the town, which exclusively homeschools, or “unschools”, its children. The two characters come into their experience in Carpe Diem with different backgrounds and agendas, but both develop a fondness and desire to protect the small town and its beliefs when it falls prey to scrutiny by large political figures.

It is a difficult novel to pin down in the best possible way. Right when I thought I had the theme or the “point” of the book figured out, I was proven wrong. It hooked me in and continued to keep me interested with its incredibly dynamic, changing characters. One moment I was learning about the educational system in Illinois and different perspectives on it, while the next minute I found myself thinking about the importance of a healthy father-daughter relationship. It reads like real life, in a way, because there never is just one easy problem to solve.

When Leo arrives, he has an almost cult-like notion of the intentionally homeschooled town. Carpe Diem is an outsider because its beliefs on education do not fit the social norm. Oakley does a great job of introducing several side characters whose personalities, kindness, and love for their town quickly bring Leo to change his perspective.

For Tali, it’s a coming-of-age story. She’s standing up for herself, which is something her mother has not exemplified in her marriage with Tali’s father. Tali is in an unhealthy relationship, the kind we all had at 16, and she is getting her first shot at spreading her wings. She’s getting to know herself and feels a connection to Carpe Diem.

I highly recommend this book to all readers. There are relatable characters for all ages and the descriptions of Chicago are a treat for both those familiar with the city and those unfamiliar. It’s a great story about life, wake-up calls, and keeping an open mind.


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