Allyson Houlihan, a mother of two daughters, is living through the classic married woman’s nightmare – dead husband, pregnant teenager, and, of course, evil mother-in-law. After her husband dies in a car accident returning home from a business meeting, she is tormented not only by the memories of her husband and guilt over his death but also by the ever-increasing distance between herself and her fourteen-year-old daughter, who prefers to lock herself in her room with headphones rather than engage in any type of civil conversation with her mother.
Allyson’s troubles come to a head when she discovers that her daughter, Lydia, is pregnant. Lydia has been secretly having sex with her teenage boyfriend, who promptly disappears when told about the pregnancy. In dealing with a teenager in emotional and physical turmoil and with the reappearance of the controlling Queen Bee (her mother-in-law), Allyson relies on her dead husband’s best friend Michael for sanity and escape. There is a relatively happy ending, though: The experience of pregnancy brings common ground to the two women, while the decision of what to do about the pregnancy forms new boundaries across their overly intertwined lives (as mother-daughter relationships tend to be). And you can probably guess what happens between Allyson and Michael.
Now, a story of mother-daughter relationships is always enticing even when the plot isn’t completely unique, but Wolf does a better job of laying out conflicts rather than she does in getting the reader to understand the complex thoughts and emotions that bring these conflicts about. The one-dimensional characters are difficult to sympathize with, despite their hardships and the author’s attempts at creating sympathy for them. Allyson, who narrates the story, is a whiny, self-absorbed woman who at times, seems to be more interested in receiving some sexual healing, shall we say, than in communicating with her pregnant, angst-ridden, teenage daughter. Biasing the reader even further, Allyson’s references to her own strawberry hair and long, lean body are reminiscent of adolescent books from decades ago (Sweet Valley High, anyone?), complete with a ruggedly handsome love interest with the personality of tofu. The only character who manages to tug at the heartstrings is the daughter, Lydia, the poor, little ballerina who, finding herself pregnant at fourteen, struggles to do right by her unborn child.
One other thing that kept me from loving the book. The countless number of “Umm” and “Umm, Yeah” placements in the dialogue might accurately reflect the inarticulate way in which we all speak but makes for less enjoyable, distracting reading.