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Reviewed by Stephanie Dagg for Readers' Favorite
"Life's What Happens" by Kathy Clark and Alan Parker encapsulates what happened in 1969 and 1970 to a generation of young people whose lives were irrevocably changed as a result of the first draft lottery in the Vietnam War. We begin and end the story in the present day, seeing some of the characters as they reunite at the Kent University Campus under mysterious circumstances. Their memories and their feelings on revisiting University now that they are so much older and wiser are very poignantly and beautifully portrayed. Those of us of a certain age can all sympathize with Don’s feelings of being invisible to today’s youth. The rest of the novel is the flashback to the fateful time shortly before and after the draft. From party-going youngsters out to have a good time and fit some study in, they are forced to grow up overnight and face huge responsibilities. Some cope, others don’t. Some act wisely, others panic and become victims of their circumstances. There are triumphs and tragedies, happy and sad endings.
This is such an atmospheric novel, cleverly helped along by naming each chapter after a pop song of the period. The authors spare no detail and effort in recreating settings and sensations from the period in question. These range from the minutiae of fashion to the political background to all the turmoil that invades the students’ lives. It seems to be done effortlessly on their part but it calls on great skill and writership qualities to be so evocative. We feel we’re there in all the action, sharing the fun and then the tension and horror or the situations that arise. All the characters we meet are believable and persuasive, both as youths and their older selves. It’s not always easy to maintain interest in a large group of protagonists in a novel but these authors achieve this well. This is a gripping read, with its educational, historical, imaginative and very human ingredients. Brilliant writing.