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Extended Audio Sample The Year We Left Home, by Jean Thompson Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (3,229 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Jean Thompson Narrator: Cassandra Campbell Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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From National Book Award–finalist Jean Thompson comes a mesmerizing, decades-spanning saga of one ordinary American family—proud, flawed, hopeful—whose story simultaneously captures the turbulent history of the country at large.

In The Year We Left Home, Thompson brings together all of her talents to deliver the career-defining novel her admirers have been waiting for: a sweeping and emotionally powerful story of a single American family during the tumultuous final decades of the twentieth century. It begins in 1973 when the Erickson family of Grenada, Iowa, gathers for the wedding of their eldest daughter, Anita. Even as they celebrate, the fault lines in the family emerge. The bride wants nothing more than to raise a family in her hometown, while her brother Ryan watches restlessly from the sidelines, planning his escape. He is joined by their cousin Chip, an unpredictable, war-damaged loner who will show Ryan both the appeal and the perils of freedom. Torrie, the Ericksons’ youngest daughter, is another rebel intent on escape, but the choices she makes will bring about a tragedy that leaves the entire family changed forever.

Stretching from the early 1970s in the Iowa farmlands to suburban Chicago to the coast of contemporary Italy—and moving through the Vietnam War’s aftermath, the farm crisis, the numerous economic booms and busts—The Year We Left Home follows the Erickson siblings as they confront prosperity and heartbreak, setbacks and triumphs, and seek their place in a country whose only constant seems to be breathtaking change. Ambitious, richly told, and fiercely American, this is a vivid and moving meditation on our continual pursuit of happiness and an incisive exploration of the national character.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Few fiction writers working today have more successfully rendered the sensation of solid ground suddenly melting away, pinpointing that instant when the familiar present is swallowed up by an always encroaching past or voided future.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Startlingly good…You may forget that the characters don’t really exist, that the Iowa farm family so expertly drawn by the author never drew breath themselves, that most of the events that transpire across the book’s three-decade span aren’t part of the historical record.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “Jean Thompson writes with both sensitivity and intelligence, from a place of deep compassion for her characters and the world in which they live.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “One of our most astute diagnosticians of contemporary experience, conflict, unhappiness, and regret.”

    Boston Globe

  • “Enlightening and quietly brilliant…Thompson is a master at mining the most ridiculous of human foibles while never losing compassion for her flawed characters…One of the best and most memorable books of the year.”

    Miami Herald

  • “Bleak, wry, and tender…Syntax and sense are so perfectly melded, the reader steps through the looking glass and lives in the world the words conjure…Such is Thompson’s artistry that moments of everyday sorrow and nobility made me weep.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “[A] rich, detailed, resonant, emotionally spot-on novel…By the end of the novel, the reader knows more about the Ericksons than even the Ericksons. The effect is enormously satisfying, allowing the reader not only to connect the dots but to fill in the blanks the author shrewdly leaves wide open…Thompson has a light, exquisite touch. The Year We Left Home feels weightless as a result.”

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • “Powerful and darkly humorous…Thompson’s characters are sharply drawn and deeply familiar. Her dialogue is pitch-perfect.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

  • “Wise and absorbing, this is one not to miss.”


  • “Precisely the kind of beautifully crafted, intelligent, imaginative writing that serious readers crave…Each sentence deserves to be appreciated.”

    USA Today

  • “The clan at the center of Jean Thompson’s spare, startlingly resonant new novel remain inextricably linked to the place that made them, even as they reach for lives richer in both geography and purpose…But even minor characters receive the full attention of the author’s prodigious talents; each one is drawn so vividly that they never feel less than utterly real…Lovely…Told with extraordinary grace. Belongs on everyone’s summer reading list.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “This compelling chronicle of the subtle and grand departures that constitute a life is alive with incident and told by a cast of likable characters who are as uniquely drawn as they are recognizable.”


  • “In the same vein as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, The Year We Left Home unpacks the quotidian stories of a family with such mindfulness and attention, the result is both devastating and perfect…She’s a hell of a writer, with descriptions…sharp and true and bizarre…Thompson’s close-to-the-ground details, in all of her fiction, are genius.”

    Bust magazine

  • “Superb…Finely crafted…Thompson’s pithy humor, redolent details, and knowing compassion have never been sharper or more resounding as her characters’ follies and struggles reveal depthless truths about men and women, families and vocations, the lure of away and the gravitational pull of home.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Dazzling…Unforgettable…A masterful wide-angle portrait of an Iowa family over three decades…Thompson’s ability to put these characters empathically on the page, in their special setting, over an extended period of years, with just the right dose of dark humor, rivals Richard Russo’s…The novel is a powerful reflection on middle American life—on the changes wrought by the passing years and the values that endure.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Thompson paints a compelling, realistic picture of four siblings slugging through issues such as alcoholism, infidelity, and handicaps in The Year We Left Home. Thompson tackles the stuff of real life, and it’s clear that she has great compassion for her characters. Their gut-wrenching, honest inner monologues and resilience imbue them with humanity. Readers will undoubtedly see slivers of themselves in this flawed family, and while the content in The Year We Left Home may be heavy, it’s not without an occasional glimpse of a silver lining.”


  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • An Oprah’s Summer Reading List Pick in 2011
  • A 2011 BookPage Notable Book for Fiction
  • One of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Fiction
  • A BookPage Book of the Day in May 2011
  • Selected for the May 2011 Indie Next List

Listener Opinions

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Laurie | 2/17/2014

    " I understand why the reviews of this novel gave it high marks. The writing is good - but, I grew up in southern Minnesota descended from farmers, and I simply got tired of reading about such grim farm families. The people are distanced from one another - grinding out their hard working lives on farms or in small towns. The last chapter I read concerned the foreclosure and auction of one farm - an all too familiar story in the early 1970's. This was well written, emotional and portrayed the desperation and sadness of the times. However, another chapter had one of the main characters, then a graduate student, ruin his career when he brought one of his students to his apartment for dinner and drinks. He refuses her advances and yet cannot defend himself when she retaliates through his department after the evening. Really? Could he be so dumb in the first place? I don't have to have sunshine and joy on every page of a book but this story has dismal, life-is-pointless, joyless scenes throughout. At least as much as I read.... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Lauren F. | 2/12/2014

    " Good in the beginning, slow in the middle, very good in the last third or so. Took me a while to get into it, but so glad I read it. (3 stars seems insufficiently enthusiastic; 4 feels too positive.) I'm a sucker for multi-generational epics about American families, and for novels-in-stories, and this was a great example of both. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Jessica | 1/31/2014

    " My favorite kind of novel--character driven, rendered in graceful, engaging prose, literary without pretension, melancholy and insight all at once. The episodic unfurling of the narrative, moving from one character to another, provides a strong sense of family connection and disconnection, closeness and distance, all changing over time. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Tracy Mccabe | 1/31/2014

    " Bored me terribly, couldn't get past the third cd. If the narrator would have smoked another bowl, I might have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. "

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