Friday, September 4, 2020

The Best Paige In The Book Review: Ohio by Stephen Markley

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Hey y'all! Work and bar prep have had me SUPER busy lately, but I wanted to post my review of  Stephen Markley's Ohio because it was such a great escape from discovery requests and practice essays! I loved reading this book, and I hope you check it out!

The American high school experience has been romanticized and villainized in so many books, movies, and shows. It also stirs up nostalgia for anyone who survived the experience. Ironically, I read Ohio (the book) when I was leaving Ohio (the state). I went to visit my parents over spring break during my last semester of law school, but I wound up staying for 2 and a half months due to the pandemic. When I finally got back to Georgia, I spent my first evenings back reading through this book. So much of it reminded me of my hometown both when I was in high school and now. Ohio stirred up so many emotions and provoked so many thoughts.

Ohio is based around the experiences of 4 former high school classmates: Bill Ashcraft, Stacey Moore, Dan Eaton, and Tina Ross. The lives of each character brings them back to their hometown on a fateful summer night in 2013. Bill, once a popular jock with a proclivity for riling up the emotions of his classmates via controversial political views, became an activist and a substance-abuser. His return to New Canaan, Ohio was prompted by agreeing to run a mysterious package from Louisiana to his former hometown. Stacey has traveled the world and is working towards her doctorate in literature. She reluctantly comes back to her northeast Ohio town in order to meet with the mother of her high school sweetheart (whose mysterious disappearance is a common thread between each character's story). Dan, once shy, quiet, and studious, is an Army veteran who agreed to come back to Ohio for a dinner date with the one that got away. Finally, there's Tina, who never left Ohio despite being the popular girlfriend to the star of the football team. These 4 characters alternate between the present and reminiscing on their old high school days. Each story leads to the shocking final events that will leave readers stunned.

Ohio is split into a prelude, the 4 characters' stories, and a coda. Markley's prose is incredibly entrancing, and it really brought the story to life. Rather than splitting each character's story into smaller chapters, each story is one long chapter. The characters flip back and forth between where their lives are at currently and events from their past that influenced each character's individual paths. Ohio provides a window into what life was like when coming of age in a post-9/11 midwestern town. The choices that each character made as a teen and their reflections on those choices as adults will have you pausing to evaluate the choices you made in your formative years and how they've shaped the person you've become.

I loved reading Ohio! While it was difficult to keep up with the characters at first, they all proved to be an integral part of the story. Being from a small town in Northeast Ohio myself, I saw so many of the ideals and attitudes that my peers and their parents embodied through my first 18 years of life mirrored in the book's characters. While the main characters are about 10 years older than I am, many of these values transcended the decade in between us. I also connected with many of the experiences the characters went through- both in high school and after having left Ohio for greener pastures. The characters were also incredibly believable and real. They face struggles with joblessness, sexuality, rape, mental health, bigotry, and accepting that life doesn't always turn out the way you envision that it will. I lost count of the number of times I had to put the book down to think about what I would have done in the situations the characters found themselves in when I was in high school as well as how I would have reacted now as an adult. This book creates such a rich and important dialogue, and I absolutely recommend reading it!

Rating: ★★★★

Favorite Quotes
  • "Though they’d been teenage enemies of a sort, he also felt the fraternity: once handsome, marbled, small-town athletes who couldn’t understand why they hadn’t conquered the world."
  • "She marveled at the power the American high school experience holds on the imagination. She’d always noticed how people tended to view their high school days as foundational even if they didn’t realize it. Get them talking about those years, and they suddenly had all these stories of dread and wonder you could wrap whole novels around."
  • "That’s how teenagedness works: everyone lives in a bubble of their own terrifying insecurities oblivious to the possibility that so does everyone else."
  • "It’s a strange feeling: to be ashamed and embarrassed of who you used to be. Even with the excuses of youth, inexperience, and influence—her church, her parents, her older brothers, her friends, almost everyone she knew—it still made her deeply uncomfortable to think of herself back then, who she might have hurt without knowing it."
  • "They were just children, she told herself, imitating emotions they didn’t yet know anything about. That’s why teenagers are in love with pop idols and think it would be fun to shoot bows and arrows in futuristic dystopias. She’d look at pictures of herself in high school—her button-nosed face and bob of blond hair, the way she slouched, perhaps because she subconsciously wanted to be shorter—and think, Look at this awkward teenage baby! She can’t feel anything real yet! If she now heard a woman stammer on like Lisa had, she’d be embarrassed for her. So much Hollywood rom-com drippy bathetic nonsense. Yet the feeling she had back then always returned to her like a ghost; her face would go iron-hot and that pebble in her throat would exert its pressure. Because irony, distance, perspective would all eventually fail her—because that’s the kind of shit you lived a lifetime to hear. And something only a seventeen-year-old actually has the courage to say."
  • "She was in love. And love made you do things you’d never expect, things so far beyond yourself or who you thought you were that you don’t even recognize the person who does them. Love was what God gave you to make you both unbearably strong and intolerably weak. Love was the ghost of yourself, a mirror image you saw in a crowd—different life, different ideals, different map of the world—but somehow still you."
This book was such a well-written, emotional, and thought-provoking read. I absolutely recommend checking it out, especially if you grew up in a small town. If you're interested, you can buy Ohio on Amazon here. Let me know how you like it!

Make today the best page yet,

(All images and text reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc. Ohio was published by Simon & Schuster in 2019)


  1. This is a book I think I'd like to read! Thanks for sharing your well-written review.

  2. Hey, this sounds like a pretty good read, and one I have not heard of of before. Thanks for the great review. Sold! I'll check this one out. I'm product of the a small midwestern upbringing, so it sounds like this book may resonate. Without a doubt, I'm definitely one of those people that looks back at H.S. with sense of nostalgia mixed with an urge to cringe. I don't think I'd like to go back and hang out with my 17-year old self.

    1. I am so with you! I definitely changed a ton since then! And it definitely sounds like this book will resonate with you! Hope you like it!