When she lent it to me, luvmoose said that the book was not quite what she was expecting, especially the second half, and I definitely found this to be true. I had imagined it would be a coming-of-age story about a girl discovering her talent in life, and while it certainly was that, there was much more to it. The unraveling, dysfunctional family is often part of these types of books, but in this case the family, especially Miriam's madness and Aaron's spiritual journey, were just as important as Eliza's spelling, probably even more so in the last third or so of the book. I found Miriam's story fascinating, especially as more and more of her secret life is revealed, but the thread regarding Aaron and the Hare Krishnas didn't do much for me. Nor did the sections on Eliza's forays into Jewish mysticism. Maybe there was just too much religion in the book for my tastes.
There was also an odd balance between surprises and predictability. Right after the incident with the dog, I figured that Miriam would be caught, arrested, and sent to an institution eventually. Eliza misspelling the first word in the last spelling bee was utterly predictable, as was the outcome of Aaron's confrontation with his father. But there were some unexpected moments as well, the depth of Miriam's secret life being the main example.
I think maybe what has me out of sorts is the abruptness of the ending. Eliza misspells her word (on purpose? accidentally? the story is unclear), and that's it. I don't need to have every plot thread tied up to feel closure from the end of a story, but so much was left unresolved. Even though I knew I was on the last page of the book, I kept expecting there to be something more.
Still, with a few exceptions, I found the book engaging and well written. I find it encouraging that this is a first novel; I look forward to seeing more work by the author, because I enjoyed her style very much.