Review by Darcie Czajkowski
Geneva Novak lives her life according to a non-negotiable list of rules, is dedicated to maintaining order around her, and insists on solving problems methodically. According to these philosophies, Geneva cares for animals as a veterinarian and runs her household of two temperamental teenagers. As long as she doesn’t deviate, she feels in control, but what troubles her is that some things – right now, too many things – are out of her control.
Ella Novak hates her mother. Well, what teenager doesn’t? But Ella hates hers more than the average teenager. Her mother sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong, ascribes to a long list of rules that’s become a nuisance, and doesn’t understand Ella in the slightest. Being a teenager is hard enough when your younger brother, Charlie, is up to no good, you’re trying to catch the attention of a boy at school, and pursue your dream of writing poetry, all while trying to keep up appearances that you’re studying for the SAT exam and completing homework assignments on time. She certainly doesn’t need her mother adding to her already-complicated life.
Helen Riley lives with secrets. Darn good ones. Ones she’d prefer to forget, if only as a result of her perma-companion, vodka. Her relationships with her four children are icy, except her only son, Dublin, who tolerates her in small doses. But at least she’s living in warm in L.A. and no one at her little condo complex sniffs the odor on her breath or judges her for her past. Here, her secrets are totally shrouded, locked in the past, where they will remain forever. She can live with herself, just so long as her children don’t come lookin’ for answers.
Then Helen makes a mistake. A big one. She drinks, then drives. Her car crashes and her injuries include a fractured knee and leg, a broken nose, and a dislocated shoulder. Despite her insistence that she can stay in her condo, Geneva and Dublin agree that someone must care for her. But with Helen’s finances in disarray, the duty falls on Geneva, whose husband, Tom, piously insists that taking in Geneva’s mother is the right thing to do.
But will Tom feel as committed to the cause once Helen moves in and aligns her nefarious interests with Geneva’s son, Charlie’s? Will Helen find a way to keep drinking, precluding any hope of a relationship with Geneva? Will Geneva pursue answers to long-held questions from her childhood, including but not limited to why her mother started drinking after her father’s death when Geneva was only eleven?
Told from the viewpoints of Geneva, Ella, and Helen, this moving, complex story of family engaged me from the first page until the very last. Sonja’s debut was impressively woven together to accurately portray the layered dynamics of a family which started dysfunctionally and only grew worse from there. Sonja poses various questions: Can a family survive the damning effects of alcoholism and long-kept secrets that created deep valleys between relationships? Are there just some revelations that a family simply cannot surmount? For anyone who has ever had a complicated relationship with one or more family members, this book will speak to you. I highly recommend it.
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About the Author:
I'm a first-generation American, raised in Stowe, Vermont--a wonderful place to be a child. My father taught skiing and tennis. My mother had been a school teacher and encouraged my sister, my brother and me to read and read and read. It stuck.
As a teenager, I waitressed at the Trapp Family Lodge to earn my college tuition. Maria Von Trapp gave me a cuckoo clock for my sixteenth birthday!
I earned my B.S. in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and my Ph.D. in Biological Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.
I started writing full-time when my daughters were heading to college. My husband and I recently moved from the San Francisco Bay Area (the setting for my debut novel) to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
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