Another winner from Beth Moran. I’m never quite sure how to classify her books: are they chick lit? (Sort of, but they don’t have the classic chick lit protagonist that nearly every other chick lit book I’ve read tends to have. The protagonist checks some of those boxes still, though–usually early 30s, down and out, and even the reader doesn’t realize how wonderful she is until another character comments on how they see her… yet, they’re never a caricature.) Is it just straight “literature,” given the complexity of interpersonal dynamics and intergenerational characters? There’s a little bit of “Hallmark channel” in there, but her books never feel cheesy, just “feel good.” And then sometimes, even though the bulk of the story is about relationships and finding one’s place in the world, there’s some element of suspense.
Nearly all of Moran’s books contain elements of the dysfunctional family in them, though it was really brought to the forefront in this one (hence the title). Ruth, 33, spent most of her life being in love with her best friend and next door neighbor, David. But David broke her heart in high school, when she caught him making out with another girl. In retaliation, Ruth ran off, hooked up with someone else, and got pregnant with her now teenage, troubled daughter Maggie (and for quite some time, there are no redeeming qualities to Maggie at all… but that’s just the setup for her character arc.) Because of Maggie, Ruth stays with Frazer, Maggie’s dad, even though she never really loves him. David, meanwhile, basically becomes Steve Irwin–traveling the remote and exotic natural world for TV.
Then Frazer dies unexpectedly, leaving Ruth with massive debt she didn’t realize he had. This forces her to move back home, to the small town that shunned her (at least in her mind) for her shocking teenage pregnancy. She and Maggie are forced to move in with Ruth’s parents, even though Ruth and her dad never repaired the rift when she got pregnant. Meanwhile, her parents’ marriage is on the rocks, and Ruth’s judgmental sisters whose lives are comparatively perfect come around to make her feel horrible about herself. She finds herself working for the girl David once hooked up with, and invited into a women’s group at the church that once shunned her–where she, surprisingly, finds that she feels loved. Then of course, David comes home. That’s not the main plot, though–just one of the plots. She also finds herself with a bona fide stalker, she and Maggie have to learn how to mend their relationship, and Ruth has to find who she truly is, without all the running away.
Absolutely heartwarming, uplifting, and always clean. However I’d classify it, I love Beth Moran’s style.
My rating: *****
Sexual content: none
Violence: just a little, because of the stalker, but not gratuitous
Political content: none (and good for her for resisting the pressure to go there, as I’m sure she has some!)