I won ten copies of this book for my book group from bookmovement.com. It is the second in a series. The first was Firefly Lane. The book stands on its own and does not need to be read as a sequel. It is about self discovery, reconciliation and redemption.
It covers many major issues: alcoholism, drug addiction, cutting, attempted suicide, troubled and deviant teens, runaways, Cancer, love and loss, mental illness, sexual abuse, racial and religious bias, interracial relationships, and even domestic abuse. Perhaps it was trying to be too many things at once, but it is largely successful in its presentation. Fans of Kristin Hannah will be enchanted with this novel.
The story surrounds the loss of Katie Ryan, a victim of Cancer, and her death’s devastating effect on family and friends. Tully and Kate are best friends, forever. However, they had a terrible falling out, two years before Kate’s illness began, and until Kate expresses a need for her, in her final days, they are estranged. Kate’s husband, Johnny, against his own best judgment, asks Tully to come back into their lives to comfort Kate, at which point she gives up her own life, with dramatic and drastic consequences, to offer herself to her friend.
Kate and Johnny are the parents of Luke and Wills, twins, and Marah a high school teenager. The twins deal manageably well with the death of their mom, but Marah and Tully, truly falter. Johnny feels helpless and behaves thoughtlessly and irresponsibly on too many occasions, considering only his own feelings and no one else’s in his effort to restore normalcy to their lives. He is the adult in the room but he is acting like a spoiled child. For Marah, this might be a forgivable behavior, but, for Johnny, it is reprehensible and has grave results.
Although the book centers around Kate’s death, it is really about Marah and Tully and their individual reactions to grief. Tully is a famous talk show host. She has a damaged life; she is largely ignorant about her past, she is “motherless” in all ways that count, and she descends into her own private Hell after her friend’s death. Her mother’s scars, truly scar her as well. Marah, on another plane, descends as well. She no longer feels that anyone understands her, is filled with misunderstood anger which causes her to withdraw and become sullen. How all of these interacting characters work out their lives, for good and bad, well meaning or not, is the central theme of this novel.
For the first almost 300 pages, the book felt very pedestrian and hackneyed. The characters seemed overblown in their development, almost like caricatures of themselves. Marah, as a Goth, is not very believable although her grief and confusion certainly is understandable. She is selfish and immature, which may be normal, but a perfectly healthy teen, would not, it seems to me, turn so grievously into something else because of the death of a parent, especially when there is a support system around, even if this support system is damaged as well. Surely her grandparents were the most stable influence and could have had more of an effect in real life. Too many of the characters sought to comfort themselves at the expense of others.
In the last ¼ of the book (about 100 pages), the author’s purpose became clearer, and she redeemed herself. The pages turned themselves and I read on until I finished it, without putting it down. The beginning of the book, which seemed hackneyed, now seemed more plausible. Although, I sensed how it would conclude, I still, wanted to learn the details. The novel covers the behavior of the characters and the atmosphere that existed over three generations, from the mid 60’s to 2010. It perfectly captures the 60’s, the flower child generation, the formica tables and the tract houses, the hoods in black leather jackets with slick backed hair, in the style of the sitcom Happy Days. It also captured the puritanical views. It succeeded in capturing the atmosphere of the young teens born to that generation, growing up with their Valley Girl personas in a world with loosened moral standards and greater, often abused, sexual freedoms. Then it encompasses the troubled worldview of the kids growing up today, in a world with technology and personal freedom, heretofore, unknown. It covers the essential, perhaps over “liberalization” of America, in school, at home, in the workplace, and the world.
For me, the book took too long to come together. At times it seemed pedestrian and cloying, demanding sympathy from the reader. Perhaps the author was setting it up carefully for readers who had not read Firefly Lane. Although the characters were fully developed, the plot was fairly obvious, and the narrative was repetitious, at times, because the story was told from the vantage point of several of the characters: Johnny, Marah and Paxton, Tully, Dorothy (Tully’s mom, known also as Cloud), Margie and Gus, (Kate’s parents).
Because of the way the book is written, though, it should cross all age lines in its appeal. It will touch grandparents, parents, and their children, as it concerns the three generations. It is a novel about self image, self destruction and its alternate, salvation. It is about wounded people and how they destroy or heal themselves and find their way home again. There are moments of recognition when scenes remind the reader of Oprah, Bob Woodruff, Fonzi, and the movie, Beaches.