I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.
I recently won an advance copy of Catherine Isaac’s latest novel, You Me Everything in a Goodreads giveaway. Excited to get the chance to read an anticipated novel before it is released, I dove into my copy, expecting a breezy, predictable romance novel about a single mom burying the past and looking ahead to the future. Instead, this novel unfolds unrealized truths and dark histories among its protagonist and her family, creating a layered and heartbreaking read that surprised me and surpassed my expectations of this story.
Jess and her 10-year-old son, William, spend their summer in the French countryside visiting William’s father, Adam, the owner of a tourist chateau in the French countryside. Jess’ reluctance to see her ex exposes itself as animosity in his presence as she is reminded of the night of William’s birth when Adam was a no show, preceded by a pregnancy lacking in support on Adam’s end and a possible affair taking place during her labor and delivery. She is also not happy about leaving her mother, whose body and mind is disintegrating from the effects of the late stages of Huntington’s Disease. However, Jess finds it necessary for Adam to connect with their son due for reasons of her own. As father and son grow close, Jess finds herself torn between her plan coming together and the anger she feels toward Adam’s past offenses, but the truth about those offenses slowly rise to the surface as the summer progresses.
On the outset, this book is set up like a Lifetime movie of the week. Jess is your typical angry ex-girlfriend who was stuck with the responsibilities of raising a child by herself due to not being about to recognize her boyfriend’s deadbeat status before they reproduced. Adam is your typical self-obsessed man who somehow managed to hit the jackpot in both looks and money, despite being a cheating, awful guy. He’s got a stereotypically young, new girlfriend. Then there are her friends: the exhausted supermom, Becky, and the cradle robbing, stylish, Natasha, there to provide two perspectives of moral support for Jess while trying to escape from their own problems. There are also her seemingly perfect parents who encourage Jess to go on this trip, despite being left behind to deal with her mother’s progressing illness. But, nobody is exactly as Jess initially paints them, and their true selves are exposed as the story is revealed.
While it doesn’t take front and center at first, the core message of this book is basically to inform readers about the debilitating horrors of Huntington’s Disease. Jess’s mother’s condition is typically explained text-book style as to how she developed the disease and how it breaks down her body in a combination of symptoms resembling Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and MS. Jess protects the reader from the gory details through the first half of the book, much in the way she protects her son from knowing about his grandmother’s disease at all. As this book shows, however, secrets cannot remain so forever. Eventually, they are forced to come out, and the characters have to expose the truths that have been hiding for years, warts and all.
As a result, the characters must also learn to accept each other’s imperfections as well as their own. They expect too much of themselves and each other, and relationships break apart when they cannot meet these expectations. It’s this element that helped me to connect to Jess’ situation, considering how I do not know what it’s like to be a single parent who resents her child’s father. While I don’t agree with all of the choices she makes, this is what makes her human, and the reader needs to accept her faults as she learns to accept others’ in the story.
This book was surprisingly deep and poignant, surpassing my expectations. It was still the breezy beach read at certain points, a great summer book to read while tanning but full of twists and surprises that shifts the reader’s perspectives of the characters and their situations at the story unfolds. You don’t have to be in Jess’ situation to get her. You just have to be a person who understands what it’s like to have a tunnel vision-perspective of your life and be taken aback when that perspective is expanded to reveal the entire truth of your world and everyone in it.
The story is very well-balanced, shifting between Jess’s relationship with Adam, William, a man she meets at the chateau named Charlie, her friends’ conflicts, and her mother’ illness. The chapters are short and flip-flop between past and present, discussing important elements of her life, such as her dad’s past alcoholism, Adam’s behavior during Jess’ pregnancy, and her mother’s change in attitude that led to her diagnosis. These individual pieces of information join together like a puzzle by the end of the book. It creates a good spin on an otherwise stereotypical story about a deadbeat dad struggling to make amends for 10 years of near-abandonment. The ending surprised me by not being over-the-top, fairy-tale happy or tear-jerking depressing.
I recommend this book for adult women looking for a summer read with substance. It’s a fast read with short but detailed chapters that remembers to paint a pretty portrait of the French countryside, the family’s relaxing vacation life mixed with the tension of skeletons in the closet, love triangles, and desperation for a solution to a murky future. It brilliantly reflects the destructive mess that life can be, even in the middle of paradise.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 30, 2018:
Sounds like a good read.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 07, 2018:
Congratulations on your win! The book sounds very interesting, thanks to your review. Themes of the plot and subplots are so different; it really would be like two stories. Thanks for sharing.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 02, 2018:
I have not yet read the book and it looks interesting to meet the characters. From what you have written about the book, it looks like it's full of characters trying to live through life.