“The People We Keep” Will Keep Hold of You

Photo by the author, originally posted to Instagram

(Full disclosure: Book links are Bookshop.org affiliate links. Book of the Month links are referral codes.)

This January, I’m making an effort to read through my ever-growing stack of unread Book of the Month picks. I started 2021 this way as well, so I think it’s becoming an annual tradition.

First up this year? The People We Keep by Allison Larkin. 

This is the story of April, a struggling musician who runs away from a difficult home and makes a life on the road with her guitar and her songs. She collects people along the way, staying with them only for brief stints at a time so the going never gets rough. 

I tend not to read very many books with musician protagonists. I’m not 100% sure where this comes from, except that I’m weird about music in general, and have perhaps had one too many a guy whip out a guitar and expect me to react some kind of way as he plucks out Wonderwall. Or maybe I dated one too many a percussionist in high school. 

Regardless of where it comes from, though I have nothing against the musically talented in real life, I don’t feel particularly drawn to reading about them. Unless Brendan Urie ever writes a memoir in which case I am so there, it’s insane. (Can we get someone on making this happen? Thanks.)

But back to the book at hand. When I posted my BOTM backlog, several people commented to say how much they loved The People We Keep. And so, I decided to start there. 

It took me a few pages to sink in to the narrative voice of the book. April is no bookish stand-in for the writer, and her voice reflects this. She doesn’t do well in school and has to fend for herself in the motor home her dad won in a poker game. 

Hers is not an easy life. Nor does it get easier. April has to “borrow” cars from neighbors and her father to get anyplace, and can only restock on groceries by running off with her father’s wallet. When she drops out of school and runs away, it’s hardly a surprise. 

But things don’t get much better for April on the road. Any time she begins to settle in somewhere, it seems tragedy strikes. It is heartbreaking to watch as she slowly lets her guard drop just a little, only to throw it back up again and again. I found myself frustrated with her and rooting for her to find her happy ending all at the same time. 

This book doesn’t pull punches about the dangers of life on the road for a woman alone, or the downsides of the oft-glamorized traveling musician lifestyle. 

I won’t say I enjoyed the read so much as I felt gripped by it. I needed to see what happened next for April, learn whether she would ever feel some semblance of safety and security. See which people she would get to keep, if any. 

In all, I’m pretty happy with my first read of the year! It’s not the kind of story I usually read, and April isn’t a protagonist I identify with very much. Sometimes, it’s nice to change it up and step into something different for a little while.

I recommend this to fans of stories about independent women, of found family narratives, and reading about musicians on the road. I also suspect it’s good for fans of Daisy Jones and the Six, which I haven’t read, so take that one with a grain of salt. 

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