Kwasney’s evocative story shifts between the lives of three struggling 15-year-old girls being raised by single mothers in small New York cities. Madeline, living in 1977 Elmira, N.Y., is overweight, depressed and overburdened: “I will always be stuck here. In this spot. In this body. I will never be a spirit. Or anything other than what I am,” she thinks. Her life consists of babysitting her alcoholic mother, until she meets sensitive Tad and begins to hope for a life with a stable family. In 1993, Desiree, whose story is told in free verse, is raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Larry, becomes pregnant and flees with her boyfriend, Jeremy, who believes he is the father. And in present-day Poughkeepsie, overachieving Ariel’s ambitions and friendships are stifled by her controlling boyfriend. Ultimately the girls’ stories converge as they cope with the hands they’ve been dealt (“We all inherit someone else’s leftovers,” Ariel muses) and attempt to build better lives. Kwasney’s (Itch) protagonists are distinctive and empathetic, her narratives meticulously structured and realistic, exposing the unpredictability—and sometimes unfairness—that life can bring. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Naomi Williamson
In alternating chapters, three teenage girls tell their story. Madeline is an overweight, insecure sixteen year old during 1977; Desiree, at sixteen in 1993, is dealing with a mother who is strung out on medication, a stepfather who is looking at Desiree inappropriately, and a boyfriend who truly cares about her; Ariel is living in 2009, dealing with a father who is in prison for murder and with a mother who is doing her best to be the kind of role model she herself would have liked to have had. As the stories of these girls unfold, an unusual twist becomes evidentthis is the story of one family, told through the story of the three generations of women who deal with the need for forgiveness. Kwasney does an excellent job of creating individual voices for each of the characters that allows the reader to understand just how they are each dealing, and often not dealing, with the highs and lows of their lives. Reviewer: Naomi Williamson
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—Three generations are portrayed in this compelling novel about complicated relationships between mothers and daughters. Overweight Madeline, growing up in the 1970s, has taken care of her alcoholic mother for as long as she can remember. Food is her crutch, until she meets Tad, who changes her life. But a tragic accident leaves her pregnant and alone. Desiree, growing up in the 1990s, tells her story in free verse. Her mother's boyfriend rapes her in the backseat of his truck. After a falling out with her mother, the pregnant teen runs away. Ariel's story begins in 2009. Her father is in jail; she lives with her workaholic mother who offers little guidance, allowing Ariel to make her own decisions. But, as her relationship with her boyfriend becomes more troubling, Ariel realizes just how much she misses and needs her mother's support. As the stories develop, readers begin to see clues as to the relationships among the teens. Of the three stories, Ariel's is the weakest compared to the palpable emotions conveyed in Madeline's and Desiree's stories. But, it's Ariel's insight ("We all inherit someone's leftovers") that gets to the crux of the book. Life lessons abound in this grim look at how decisions can have lasting effects. Short, alternating chapters among the teens and authentic voices make this a good choice for reluctant readers.—Kelley Siegrist, Farmington Community Library, MI
Three young women spanning three generations become intimately connected as their mothers' mistakes affect their lives. Growing up with a self-centered, single-parent, alcoholic mother, obese Madeline copes by indulging her insatiable hunger and being ultra-responsible. Desiree avoids her overly critical, negligent mother, who's stoned on headache pills and glued to soap operas, by hanging out with her boyfriend. Ariel's father is incarcerated for murder and her possessive boyfriend stalks her, but her mother is loving and supportive. Madeline's life changes when her boyfriend dies, leaving her pregnant, Desiree's, when she's raped and impregnated and Ariel's, when she meets her maternal grandmother, and all three lives are pulled together in an epiphany of discovery, forgiveness and healing. From 1977 through 2009, Madeline, Desiree and Ariel tell their stories in alternating present-tense voices evoking the tone of their respective generations (Desiree in all-lower-case free verse). While Kwasney effectively develops her characters into multidimensional personalities, convincing in their strengths and weakness, the coincidental plot feels contrived. Despite intergenerational differences, however, all three learn to make the most of the lives they inherit. (Fiction. 14 & up)
From the Publisher
"...[A] moving novel narrated in alternating voices....a larger tale of love, abuse, understanding, and forgiveness. The women aren't all likable, but they are authentic, and each story explores single motherhood, body obsession, and the search for meaningful love. Each woman's hard-fought journey towards self-respect makes for difficult yet compelling reading."
LIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION, STARRED REVIEW
This book is impossible to put down and would be especially appreciated by older teen girls. It would also make a great discussion book for a mother and daughter to share.
"...Kwasney effectively develops her characters into multidimensional personalities, convincing in their strengths and weakness..."
The overall picture is of hope and affirmation, and readers will applaud these flawed but resilient women.
"the kind of novel that mothers should give to their daughters or, even better, read and discuss together.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
"Short, alternating chapters among the teens and authentic voices make this a good choice for reluctant readers."
"Kwasney's protagonists are distinctive and empathetic, her narratives meticulously structured and realistic, exposing the unpredictabilityand sometimes unfairnessthat life can bring."
VOYA - Kathleen Beck
Madeline copes with a weight problem and an alcoholic mother; Desiree is raped by her mother's lover; Ariel juggles AP classes and a possessive boyfriendthree women, three distinctive voices, and, the reader gradually realizes, three generations of the same family. "What the daughter does, the mother did," a Jewish proverb dryly observes at the beginning of Kwasney's novel. Abuse, abortion, alcoholism, unwed motherhood, sex, and salty language are all part of this story. But despite the problems, it is not a gloomy book. Madeline finds love, however brief, with a boy she meets at MacDonald's; Desiree works hard to get an education and raise her daughter; and Ariel develops the strength to claim her own space. When Ariel's grandmother, hospitalized for breast cancer surgery, reaches out to her daughter, a complicated, tentative reconciliation begins. The interwoven first-person, present-tense narratives (Desiree's in blank verse) portray fully realized characters. The males are equally convincing, creepily so in the case of Desiree's attacker. Occasionally a character's voice is not consistent, but it is a minor quibble. The author weakens her story somewhat by relying on coincidencethe drunken driver of the car that runs over Madeline's boyfriend is her mother, and Desiree's mentor turns out to be Madeline's long-lost high school friend. There is a gentle pro-life slant. The overall picture is of hope and affirmation, and readers will applaud these flawed but resilient women. Reviewer: Kathleen Beck