Terri Giuliano Long paints a thoroughly believable portrait of a “perfect” family suddenly finding itself falling apart at the seams. When Leah, the previously high-achieving model daughter starts to rebel, the stress of her teenage rebellion upsets the family’s already fragile equilibrium, revealing buried resentments and highlighting their inability to communicate with each other.
The book alternates between the POV of each of the four family members (along with one other character), and this approach works well in that it allows us to get inside their heads, leaving little room for doubt as to where they’re coming from. All four of the Tyler family members are well-developed as characters, full of human insecurity and stubbornness. The author does a good job showing how even the most well-meaning people have a tendency to hurt the ones they love the most, and we see each of the characters in turn, including wayward daughter Leah, desperate to make things right, but not knowing how, and being afraid to make the first move for fear of rejection.
The family relationships painted by the author are painfully recognizable; the father so incapable of seeing beyond his daughter’s dubious choice of boyfriend that he risks alienating her altogether. The younger daughter doing her best to hold her family together, but finding herself becoming increasingly invisible as her older sibling goes further and further off the rails. The mother, wondering what the hell happened to her life and her family when she wasn’t looking. And at the center of the mess, the older daughter desperately seeking some way to prove herself to be “unique”, checking off every clichéed box on the bingo card of teenage “rebellion” (smoking, drinking, drugs, sex) as she does so. Demonstrating her individuality with musical tastes that flip-flop daily from one million-selling “alternative” act to the next as she tries to figure out who she is. Ditching the one thing she truly excels at, soccer (now uncool, tainted for her by the need to follow rules and its association with her pushy father), in favor of hazy ideas of becoming a rockstar. For all that, even at her worst-behaved and most ungrateful, there is something likeable about Leah, and as a reader I couldn’t help but sympathize with her as she longs to make things right, believing that it’s too late and she’s burnt all her bridges with the people who really matter to her.
This brings me onto the one area where the story fell down for me a little: the “God stuff”. I had a nagging worry throughout the book that I might suddenly find myself ambushed by an evangelical message, something that I’ve experienced on more than one occasion with some of the self-published books I’ve read and will admit I’m super-sensitive to as a result. Happily, that was NOT the case here (at least, not the blunt-object-over-the-head approach I was wary of), but the way the book ended and Justine’s repeated contemplations of “what it means to be a part of God’s family” and suchlike felt a little out of place for me, as I was more interested in reading about the dynamics between the family members themselves.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was reluctant to put it down once I’d started; it was an easy read that I got through in a couple of evenings. The story continually made me think; more than once, I’d find myself infuriated at the stubbornness of the characters in their interactions with each other, while recognizing that I’m guilty of the same behavior myself at times! For anyone who thinks the synopsis sounds appealing, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book. Go ahead and get a copy, you won’t be disappointed. Terri Giuliano Long is a talented writer, and I’m looking forward to finding out what she has up her sleeve for the future!
(reviewed 24 days after purchase)