A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl

Written by Jean Thompson
Review by Andrea Connell

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl is a multigenerational story set in a small Midwestern town where three women try to cope with lives they find unsatisfying and unhappy. Right after World War II, Evelyn, matriarch of the Wise family, sets aside an intellectually satisfying career to marry a man she doesn’t love for the sake of security. Instead of the career she craves, she becomes a housewife and mother. These roles don’t suit her, and she passes that unhappiness down to her daughter, Laura. Laura feels her mother’s discontent acutely and becomes the “pleaser” in her family. Laura’s daughter, Grace, fights her mother’s way of life and struggles to break free of the family pattern, without much success.

Overall, A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl is the story of the women’s attempt to escape dysfunction. Each woman fails to free herself, and the story is steeped in hopelessness. It is not an inspiring read, but those who like stories full of angst and drama—including unwanted pregnancies, extramarital affairs, alcoholism, drug addiction, and cancer—will appreciate this novel.

One problem I found was that although Evelyn’s story, a minor part of the plot, was set in a historical era, the rest of the book is contemporary. Laura and Grace’s lives revolve around present-day issues. Readers looking for historical fiction in this book will be disappointed. Another issue is the pace of the plot; it is very slow-moving. It took me much longer to make my way through the book than it should have.

Readers who are interested in a story about women’s attempts to escape suffocating lives—and I’m sure there are many who can empathize with their situations—will want to read this book.