Laura Moriarty's second novel has several ratings at both extremes. So I suppose the verdict is: you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I loved it, enough to give it a full five stars.
That being said, this is the first of her novels I've read so I didn't have any super-high expectations. Plus, I'm a mom. And this book is all about motherhood, from both the child's viewpoint and the parent's.
Distracted by her cell phone, a dog, and her best friend while driving, Leigh Churchill's teenage daughter Kara runs over--and kills--another teenage girl in a crosswalk. That in itself had me on the brink of tears. Through the events that follow, we also discover that Leigh is kind of "relationship challenged." Her marriage isn't in trouble, per se, but she has a simmering jealousy toward her husband for how close he is with Kara while Leigh struggles with every attempt at mother/daughter bonding. And he doesn't even have to try; they just naturally click. Leigh's only friend in the small Kansas town they call home is not exactly an ideal companion either. She's a gossip, which prevents Leigh from being able to fully unload her emotional burdens onto the shoulders of... anyone.
Then we get to the problem of Leigh's mother. Oh. Dear. God. What a piece of work that woman is. In the first two-thirds of the book, Leigh's less-than-pleasant childhood is revealed through chapter-length flashbacks in between the "present day" issues (i.e. dealing with the town's reaction to the girl's death, court proceedings, etc). In the flashbacks we not only see what an awful mother Leigh had, but also what a really good mother her older sister turned out to be, even if she isn't all that bright. I loved the contrast, and how Leigh then found herself somewhere in between a good mom and a bad mom, which was more frustrating than being one or the other.
This "flashback section" is where a lot of readers had complaints, saying it took them away from the real plot. But does it?
I don't think it does. I am usually a flashback-hater, but in this story it worked for me. If you mistakenly start reading this book thinking that the main focus is how the family copes with Kara's accident, you will be disappointed. This is a story about character, not events. While the events springboard the character change, those events are not the point of the story, which is made even more clear by pinpointing the exact peak of the climax--a confrontation between Leigh and the mother of the girl who died.
This novel is about motherhood. Period. And that is emphasized by my favorite quote in the book:
Maybe, Leigh considered, children just want whatever it is they don't get. And then they grow up and give their children what they wanted, be it silence or information, affection or independence--so that child, in turn, craves something else. With every generation the pendulum swings from opposite to opposite, stillness and peace so elusive.But she couldn't stop it now, even as she saw it all clearly.
After reading this gem (that I found completely by accident on a Borders bargain shelf), I have added Laura Moriarty's first and third novels to my reading pile. I hope some of you will enjoy The Rest of Her Life as much as I did.