15 September 2011

The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

Description from ARC: This is a novel "about love that can both bind family members together and make them free, set in that precarious moment before your child leaves home for college.

Cam Lightsey, lactation consultant, is a single mom, a suburban misfit who's given up her rebel dreams to set her only child on an upward path.

Aubrey Lightsey, a pretty, shy girl who plays clarinet, is ready to explode from wanting her 'real' life to begin.

When Aubrey meets Tyler Moldenhauer, football idol of students and teachers alike, the fuse is lit. Aubrey metastasizes into Cam's worst teen nightmare: full of secrets and silences, uninterested in college. Worse, on the sly she's in touch with her father, who left when she was two to join NEXT! - a celebrity-ridden cult - where he's a headline grabber. As the novel unfolds - with emotional fireworks, humor, and edge-of-your-seat suspense - the dreams of daughter, mother and father chart an inevitable, but perhaps not fatal, collision ...
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I started this book expecting a standard chick-lit-esque story of a teenage girl yearning to escape the nest and her over-protective mother who can't let go. While that plotline does exist within the book, Sarah Bird has crafted a delightful novel with so many more nuances and layers than that first bare-bones description could convey.

The novel is told from both Cam's (the mom) and Aubrey's (the daughter) perspectives; it also shifts in time over the course of Aubrey's senior year of high school. Aubrey's voice is especially well-done - Bird clearly has a very strong awareness of the realities of late adolescence! I found all of the characters to be interesting and well-written, from Cam, the lactaction-consultant/single mom, to Dori, her ageing hippie friend, to Aubrey and Tyler, two teenagers struggling to become individuals in the shadow of so many people's great expectations.

This book was, at turns, laugh-out-loud funny, tender, and even heartbreaking. I think Bird got to the heart of the tough relationship between mother and daughter, and the painful reality that sometimes what we most desperately want is unachievable, and may not be the right thing for us anyway. She explores the many 'gaps' in our lives, and how normal families try to fill them, with gentle humor and compassion.

This is the first book I've read by Sarah Bird, but it won't be the last. I give it 4 stars.