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By the age of fourteen Lexi Baill has already learned not to expect too much from life. Brought up by mainly foster parents and the occasional times when her mother is not taking drugs, she's already a victim of the system, but her life seems about to change when her mother dies young and she discovers she does have family, a great Aunt Eva who is willing to take her in. The year is 2000 and the place is Port George, in Washington State. Although her aunt is poor and her new home is a trailer park, to Lexi it's the first real home she's ever had and she's grateful for the little she has. The one thing that her aunt wants Lexi to have is a good education and she manages to get her a place in High School on the nearby Pine Island, a home for the wealthy children of the families who live there.
On Lexi's first day she decides to keep her head down and stay in the background and this is when she meets Mia Farraday, daughter of one of the island's most prominent families, but Mia is terribly shy and insecure which only makes life more difficult for her with her twin brother Zach being handsome, gifted and very popular. But Lexi sees something very special in Mia and the girls strike up what must be the most unlikely friendship. Soon they are inseparable and this worries Jude, mother to Mia and Zach, for Mia has already been hurt before by young girls wanting to get close to her for the sake of Zach. Fortunately Lexi values her friendship with Mia above the attraction she instantly feels for Zach, after all, he's already got a girlfriend and what could he possibly see in a girl from the wrong side of town?
Jude and her husband Miles are good parents who care about their children and make a good, friendly home for their children and the twin's friends, including Lexi who becomes a member of the family with all the help she will accept from them, but Lexi is also the type of girl that plays fair and when Mia starts to become attracted to boys, then Lexi is always looking out for her. Over the next four years the twins and Lexi become even closer and with college looming in the future the teenagers want to party as well as study. That summer will cement a bond between the three that nothing can break, but with youth and high spirits it's a time to beware, for one of the threesome will make a dangerous choice that will change everything, leaving loyalties broken and hopes dashed. For another the future will be bleak and life can never hold the promise it once had again.
Mothers and Daughters.
While this is essentially a beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking story, it does have several themes and the main one is about the challenges of parenthood and the bond between mothers and daughters. Lexi is a carefully crafted character who manages to rise above her background and become a credit to both her aunt and her 'adopted mother' Jude, who looks on her as another daughter. By making her an orphan who was abandoned many times by her own mother, her character understands what a good mother Jude is to Mia and because of this she will suffer from loneliness and insecurity later in life.
Jude is an interesting character and it's a change to see a story where all points of view manage to meld into a terrific tale of what families can do to each other. Jude's mother Caroline is cold and uncaring, a woman who drew away when her husband died, she warns Jude that her relaxed ways of parenting will only end in tears, but although Jude worries about the twins, she also cares that they have a normal teenage passage through high school and will act sensibly at parties staying away from drink and drugs.
The Challenges of Teenagers.
This is another theme the book addresses within the storyline and raises the question of how lenient can a parent be when their children grow up so fast. I felt it was slightly biased towards the youth culture, but American children do appear to have more freedom than children in the UK. I don't think UK parents have quite the same worries as American parents who often allow their children to drive before they can legally have sex or drink alcohol. The mixture of parties, drinking and driving, while in a state of heightened feelings with college being a huge event in their lives must be intense and adds to the story a terrible sense of danger so the reader is afraid to turn the page. As a parent and grandparent I could follow each thread and feel for all the people, from the daughter to the mother and grandmother.
I think I could see early on where the story was heading but it still had me turning each page hoping I would be wrong. I felt the same emotions from the point of view of a lonely 14-year-old girl to a mother scared that her children will be unhappy and not knowing what to allow and still keep them safe. It's that sense of looking through the eyes of all the characters that makes this an endearing yet fearful tale.
Naturally I don't want to give too much of the story away since it's the sort of book that will appeal to all ages of women (and probably a lot of men as well). It's about choices, both good and bad, holding back feelings until they threaten to swamp you and the bitter realization that in the end you cannot live your children's lives for them, they have to learn themselves. It's about love and longing, loss and forgiveness, holding on or letting go.
I didn't expect this to make me feel as if I was constantly taking sides and then changing them, but that's how good the author can write. If I've read anything by her before then it's not recently as I'm sure I couldn't forget such a gifted writer. I'd say this is probably a box of hankies book and without alienating any generation it's a book for all ages and one that will be hard to put down. That takes some doing and it's why I can recommend it as a great read, one mainly for the ladies and sure to make an excellent choice of a Mother's Day present. (Just read it yourself before wrapping it).
My copy is a library one; you can buy this on Amazon for £5 and free delivery.
Thanks for reading.
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Lexi and Mia are best friends, and Mia and Zach are twins, and Lexi and Zach hardly hate each other either. They're not so much a couple of friends or brother and sister as they are a circle that goes round and round and never ends, and despite mother Jude's initial reservations, their unconventional arrangement seems to work. It's not like she's not got enough on her plate anyway. It's senior year of high school and the pressure of college applications and future plans is driving them all crazy, but when an event on the eve of graduation changes all their lives forever, there's nothing they wouldn't give to return to those stress-filled days of the before to escape the after that now torments them.
It's hard to describe how magical this book is, and I'm loathe to give away any more of the plot, but it is one of those special books that comes out of nowhere and leaves you floored. It was not what I expected from the blurb or from the cover... it was so much better and I couldn't bring myself to put it down. It felt a bit like running a marathon - once I'd started I had to see it through in as little time as possible.
The story is not overly complex, and it lacks the dramatic end of story twists that the likes of Diane Chamberlain or Jodi Picoult favour, but it is beautifully written and extremely moving again and again, not just towards the finale. The setting of the north west of the USA is a little unusual but works well and even though I know little about the Seattle area, the descriptions were vivid enough that I could picture it all.
What I enjoyed immensely about this book was the way so much was told through the eyes of Jude. In what could otherwise be seen as a teen book (set in high school and with three 18 years olds front and centre in the plot) it would have been easy to overlook the role of the mother, and yet as the story unfolds over the pages and details come to light, it's quite clear that eventually everything comes back to how she has mothered the children over the years.
It's been a long time since I cried quite so much while reading, but this week I seem to be on a roll, first with 'The Red Thread', and now this. It is utterly heart-wrenching and had me sobbing from very early, and reviews online confirm I'm not the only one. The characters are wonderfully formed, from Lexi's acquaintances Scot and Tamica to the entire Farraday clan, and make an interesting mix without crossing over into too exotic. I didn't know where the story was going so every page was a surprise, and I really thought the ending could plausibly go either way which is rare.
This is part of the 2011 TV Book Club Summer Reads which was what persuaded me to try it, since I hadn't been terribly sold by the summary of it, but I can see why it was picked and I'm sure many others will try it for the same reason, and be equally enthralled.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk You can get it super cheap on Amazon, and there's a Kindle version too so however you read, you're catered for.