What We Set in Motion (March 2016) is the award-winning debut novel by former dancer Stephanie Austin Edwards. This coming-of-age novel is a delightful read about a young woman named Nadine Carter Barnwell who braves the unknown to follow her dancing dreams, despite her father’s objections and her personal misgivings.
Initially set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I was first struck by the beautiful scenery. A resident of South Carolina, Edwards knows her setting and describes it well. Written in first-person point of view, the reader really gets a sense of 21-year-old Nadine’s mindset and what she is up against in deciding to leave her home behind for New York.
Despite the scenery and Nadine’s young voice, What We Set in Motion, unfortunately, for me, began as a very predictable coming-of-age novel. Simply put, a college girl and her boyfriend have grand dreams that get set aside as life gets in the way. However, although I could see the future before it happened in the beginning, midway through the book my predictions began to falter. The story became less predictable as Nadine’s life grew more complicated. I certainly didn’t see the (great) ending coming.
I liked Nadine but my favorite character was the disabled gay priest named Father Benjamin Vincent Dunlap. He lives above Nadine in her first New York apartment. He counsels her and becomes a good friend. There are many minor characters in this novel and I really liked how the author developed each one enough for the reader to appreciate them all.
For a book that had a rocky start, What We Set in Motion left me smiling. I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy feel-good Southern stories and don’t mind a slow start.
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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