I’ve read many of Kristin Hannah’s books. I usually describe them as tear-jerkers involving strong women. After finishing my most recent book I almost started a different one, but gravitated to this one in my Kindle library instead.
After a few pages, I had to find a review with spoilers. I had an idea what was going to happen and wanted to prepare myself. It was going to hit very close to home.
Judith (Jude) Farraday is the perfect wife and mother. Her husband is a surgeon and she stays home with the kids. She has done everything for her twins, Zach and Mia. As they enter high school, Jude is worried about Mia. While Zach is Mister Popularity, Mia is sort of the loner in his shadow. He includes her with his friends, but she feels like she is on the outside looking in.
There’s a new girl in school, Lexi Baill. Lexi had been bounced between an addicted mother and various foster homes until someone found her great-Aunt Eva who took her in. Eva is determined to give Lexi the best home possible despite not having much. As two outsiders, Lexi and Mia gravitate to each other. Jude warns Lexi not to hurt Mia. The last friend she had only got close to her to date the very popular Zach. Although Lexi has a crush on Zach, she does nothing about it.
Lexi helps Mia overcome her shyness and blossom into something more. She finally auditions for drama club and the two girls are nearly inseparable. Senior year in high school marks a turning point on the small Pacific Northwest island they live on. There are lots of parties going on with drinking. The Farradays gave their children a Mustang to drive around with and talked to all of them but drinking and driving. Lexi feels like a member of the family.
At the Homecoming Dance, Lexi and Zach go together with Mia and her new boyfriend. They both drop their guard and learn that they have feelings for each other but have been reluctant to share them to not hurt Mia. They hide their dating for a while, but eventually come clean and work things out.
Still, it’s a party scene all over the island for the high school seniors. Jude has told them they can call her any time they need a ride. Normally they manage to have a designated driver, but one night things are bad. When they call Jude, instead of just picking them up, no questions asked (as promised), there are consequences. When it happens again near the end of the year, instead of calling they attempt to drive home with disastrous results.
Most of the novel centered around Jude as the “perfect” mom who had to cope with the unthinkable. It seemed to hit all too close to home for me. Hannah managed to tap into what it’s like to lose a child; how the world seems darker and most of the time you’re just going through the motions of living. Jude lashes out where I was more conciliatory when I lost my daughter. We all had to forgive each other for things we did, but I still felt the burden of guilt. A mother does that because they are MOM and they are supposed to make all the right decisions. In our society, MOM still feels the weight of judgment of her parenting when something goes wrong.
For all of Jude’s strive to perfection, she was a helicopter parent who didn’t let her kids make their own decisions. This was especially true between Zach and Mia. Since Zach was handsome, smart, and popular, she tended not to worry about him. As Mia’s twin, she expected him to defer to whatever Mia wanted or needed to boost up her emotional needs and be supportive. What Zach wanted was secondary.
This is what is really behind everything at the party. Zach doesn’t want to attend the same college as Mia since Lexi won’t be there. He is supposed to be the designated driver, but after a fight with his mother, he throws caution to the wind.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t this part that made me emotional. Hannah is good at creating tragic circumstances and have people evolve because of them. I don’t want to ruin the story, because it is good with the twists and turns. I knew I couldn’t spend a long time on the book because I identified with the story all too well, and blew through the last half in about four hours. With a tragic background, we get to see teenagers evolve into adults and Jude have to adapt to a new role while she’s still grieving. That’s one of the hardest thing for parents, especially those who are involved as Jude is in their lives – learning they can’t jump in and direct everything; having to let their adult children make decisions they might not agree with.
I don’t think this was as good as some of the other books I’ve read by Kristin Hannah. The Nightingale is my favorite so far. However, it is emotionally gripping and as a parent who is going through losing a child and having to go on in life, the narrative Hannah has created around that is spot on.