Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks

Who among us hasn't wanted to just stand up and tell someone off in a totally inappropriate way? Oh, come on now... you know you've sat in a work meeting or in a class and just really wanted to yell out how stupid or mean or ridiculous someone else is being. I won't even mention sitting in traffic because that is such a given (seriously, why do people think their blinker gives them permission to just cut RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME??) (oops, look what I did there... and I'm not even writing this in my car). We have all had those moments but, for the most part, we are able to keep these things to ourselves or at least phrase them a little more politely.

In The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks, that is not how Caroline Jacobs handles herself when the PTO President begins aggressively/ passive-aggressively admonishing another parent for not volunteering enough. Caroline, usually the most conflict-averse person anyone else knows, yells the most PTO parent shocking of all four- letter words at the PTO President herself. This is just the beginning of a series of events that bring Caroline back to her hometown to confront her childhood best friend turned bully and to come to terms with the long- ago death of someone very special to her. Along for the journey is Caroline's fifteen-year-old daughter from whom she has felt an ever increasing distance over the last year or so. This is a mother/daughter story, a sister story, a wife/husband story, and a best friend story.

This book is written by the author of Memoirs of and Imaginary Friend, which I really loved, so I had high expectations for this book. Dicks does a wonderful job of developing characters and weaving tiny tales into the larger story. There were bits in this book that I really wanted to read further. Caroline is a photographer at the Sears Portrait Studio, but in her spare time she takes fine art nature photos that she is too afraid to allow anyone to see. I wanted to hear more about her work, both in and out of the studio. There is a scene in the studio where Caroline is helping one client, a mother and her physically-challenged daughter, when another client begins to just be nasty. I love the way it is handled and I just wanted a little more- not because there wasn't enough, but because it was just so good.

Caroline's daughter, Polly, is rotten and hilarious. She is probably smarter than most of the adults around her, or at least smarter than they expect her to be, and she certainly seems to know it. I adored the description of her I'M NOT WITH STUPID ANYMORE T-shirt. It made me laugh out loud and think of all the women I know that would love to have that very shirt. She also regularly quotes Monty Python, so you know she's pretty great. Caroline is just beginning to see her daughter, not as the little girl she once was, but as the young woman she is becoming and also as the woman she might like to be a little more like herself.

This book further goes on discuss how the events of high school can stick with us for years, even decades. Caroline admits that the way she was treated by her "friends" twenty-five years ago shouldn't still affect her, but she can see how it changed the trajectory of her life, in small ways that became larger. We want to let go of those hurts, but when they happen during such a foundational time in our lives, they can change us. When Caroline has the opportunity to finally speak up for herself, can she take it or will she once again let it go?

I really liked this book, though it wasn't quite as good as Memoirs. This is another book that I think would make for a great book group discussion. We all have high school baggage and certainly we've all dealt with it differently. So, dare I ask, what is your baggage?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Those Secrets We Keep by Emily Liebert

Sometimes I read books that aren't my typical genre just to reach out and maybe find something fun that I would have missed otherwise. I am always so pleased when this works out in my favor. In the case of Those Secrets We Keep by Emily Liebert, I can't really call it a success. Sloane has a great life, some people might even think it is perfect. She is married to her gorgeous high school sweetheart who adores her and she has a wonderful daughter whom she adores. The problem is that over the last year or so Sloane has felt that something in her life is missing, she feels unsettled and unhappy and she doesn't even really know why. When her aunt offers to let her use her vacation house for three weeks, Sloane is thrilled with the idea. "Enter broken. Leave fixed." These are the words her aunt gives her as a promise and as a mandate. Sloane takes her friend Hillary with her and they set off for a much-needed rest, only that rest is interrupted when Sloane's best friend from college, Georgina, crashes the party. Georgina is anything but restful and Sloane is still angry with her for leaving her in her time of need a year before. Of course, as the title makes clear, there are plenty of secrets between the three women and eventually they all come pouring out of them. 

I don't usually like chick lit and this is it to the core. It's about women and friendships, and it would be a perfect beach read for someone who enjoys this genre, but it really didn't appeal to me very much. Sloane is unhappy in her marriage, but rather than take the time to work on it, she runs off and pretends the problems don't exist. Georgina and Hillary are also both running from their own secrets and don't appear to put much work into making things better until the very end. In the author's note at the end, she suggests there may be a sequel so that may be why the end felt abrupt. I can't say I found any of these women particularly likable which also made this a difficult read for me. Of course I am well aware that there is a great following of this genre and as far as I can tell this book would certainly be enjoyed by its fans. If this is your kind of thing, pick it up and hopefully you'll see something I missed.