Breakdown Lane
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Breakdown Lane

3.8 22
by Jacquelyn Mitchard

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Where can a woman turn when her own life threatens to overwhelm her ability to keep her children safe? New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard takes the readers of her newest novel on a wry and moving journey of loss and healing.

Giving advice is what Julieanne does for a living -- every Sunday she doles it out in a column in her local

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Where can a woman turn when her own life threatens to overwhelm her ability to keep her children safe? New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard takes the readers of her newest novel on a wry and moving journey of loss and healing.

Giving advice is what Julieanne does for a living -- every Sunday she doles it out in a column in her local Wisconsin paper. But when it comes to her personal life, Julie herself seems to have missed some clues. Having worked creatively to keep her twenty-year marriage to Leo fresh and exciting and to be a good mother, she is completely caught off guard when he tells her he needs to go on a "sabbatical" from their life together, leaving Julie and their three children behind. But it soon becomes clear that his leave of absence is meant to be permanent. Things take a turn for the worse when Julie is diagnosed with a serious illness and the children undertake a dangerous journey to find Leo -- before it's too late. As the known world sinks precariously from view, the clan must navigate their way through the shoals of love, guilt, and betrayal. Together, with the help of Leo's parents and Julie's best friend, they work their way back to solid ground and a new definition of family.

No one illuminates modern love, marriage, and parenting better than Jacquelyn Mitchard. Written with her trademark poignancy, humor, and insight, The Breakdown Lane is her most moving, eloquent, and life-affirming work yet.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Julianne Gillis Steiner, mother, and advice columnist, is well aware of the challenges in keeping a marriage fresh. Faced with the usual domestic day-to-day events, she becomes suspicious when Leo, her husband of 20 years, seeks a "sabbatical" from their married life, leaving the family for six months and promising daily phone calls. Shortly after Leo's departure, Julianne is diagnosed with a serious illness. Although this novel could have easily become a maudlin disease-of-the-month book, Mitchard (The Deep End of the Ocean) handles the various themes of abandonment, illness, and family disappointment with finesse. Chapters begin with Julianne's advice column; son Gabriel, angry and bitter, writes the alternating chapters as journal entries. Learning-disabled Gabriel, the most skillfully drawn character, is the heart and soul of this story, indicating that Michard certainly has an empathy for teens. Despite the family's trials, this is an optimistic novel and is recommended for most popular collections.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“[Mitchard] takes emotional family events and makes something fresh yet familiar about them...”
“...An intriguing study of a quintessential American family...[a] thought-provoking, introspective novel.”
Life magazine
“Mitchard dissects feelings of loyalty, betrayal and guilt with such aplomb, the book moves along like a thriller.”
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
“THE BREAKDOWN LANE takes the reader on a journey of love and loss, self-discovery and synergy, a satisfying story.
Associated Press
“[Mitchard’s] tale of an imploding American family will rule the beaches this summer.”
Washington Post
“From our petulant, prideful heroine to her sullen-yet-saintly son, each character’s complexities shine...”
Capital Times
“Mitchard’s filled with vivid characters who live out loud, and in vibrant color.”
Associated Press Staff
“[Mitchard’s] tale of an imploding American family will rule the beaches this summer.”
No Source
“I dare you to read Breakdown Lane and not adore its quirky, all-too-human cast of characters. With her ear for language and artist’s eye for detail, Jackie Mitchard will take you on a journey through loss, hope, and every kind of love there is.”
Life Magazine
"Mitchard dissects feelings of loyalty, betrayal and guilt with such aplomb, the book moves along like a thriller."

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.25(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Breakdown Lane LP

Chapter One


Excess Baggage
by J. A. Gillis
The Sheboygan News-Clarion

Dear J.,

I'm getting married next summer, to a man of another nationality. Both families are very happy, but there is a problem. His many female relatives -- aunts, grandmothers, and sisters -- must sit in the front row, as is their right. As descendants of the Masai in Africa, they are very tall. My family is Japanese-American. We are small -- in number and in size. My father is only five feet four, my sisters less than five feet. The wedding will take place in a hotel ballroom with chairs set up in rows. We did not want to have a "bride's" side and a "groom's" side, because we want this to be a true blending of families. However, I know that the women in my fiancé's family are going to wear large, decorative hats (I don't mean ceremonial headdresses, as these are African AMERICANS of many generations, but what my fiancé refers to as "church-lady" hats, which are the size of our wedding cake). This will make them even taller, and so no one except my mother and father will be able to see me during the ceremony. I don't want to suggest that they "move to the back of the bus" for my family. So how can we avoid slighting anyone on our special day? Given the disparity of heights, the wedding dance will also be very awkward.

Nervous in Knudson

Dear Nervous,

This is a matter of some sensitivity, since tensions on a wedding day can leave a bitter taste that can linger for years. But nerves? You've already probably got the once-in-a-lifetime jitters every bride endures. Don't add this small opportunity for creativity to your checklist of stress. With the same joy of life you've already demonstrated by your beautifully bold choice to mingle cultures, craft a circle of joy. Ask the staff at the hotel to place the wedding chairs in a wide circle with the first row reserved for the principal members of both families and the rest of the chairs in staggered rows behind, so that each person, regardless of heights, will enjoy a wonderful view. Guests will be escorted through a small opening, the same place your groom will enter with his parents, a few moments before you enter with yours. Make the altar or other ceremonial platform in the center "a round," also -- perhaps exchanging your vows facing in one direction, conducting the ceremonies of rings or candles facing the other, with the transitions gracefully made to instrumental music or song. As for the dance! No one feels awkward at such a happy affair! Think of all the aunts and grandmas you've seen dancing the polka in groups of five!


Let's begin at the end of the beginning. The first moment of the second act of our lives.

It was ballet class. It was the second class of the week, made up of dance combinations and mat Pilates. Steady on the studio floor, I was ready to begin my final stretches. I remember that, a wonderful feeling. I was spent, but pleasurably, my hips not so much aching as aware they'd been asked for something strenuous. This class, and my weight training were the times during my week I felt freed from strain, just shy of pure.

I extended my right leg along the floor in its customary turnout -- posturally correct, erect on my sitz bones, a little bit smug, but trying not to glance around me to observe that other women, even younger women, noticed the way my flexibility still came easily -- and leaned forward for the hamstring stretch.

What I saw when I looked down horrified me so much that my mind scrabbled away from me, across the birchy floor.

What was it?

Numb shard of bone? Foot clawed birdlike, in spasm?

Worse. It was ... nothing.

Nothing was different than what I'd seen when I sat down five seconds earlier. It was only my leg, my ordinary leg in the unsoiled glove of my unitard (the silver one my youngest daughter used to call my "mermaid clothes") still bent in a forty-five-degree angle at the knee, my pointed toe nestled against my thigh.

Doesn't sound like much, does it?

You have a right to expect more of terrors. Sharp, single shriek on a silent street. Pea-sized lump your finger grazes as you soap your breast. Tang of smoke in the still air, footsteps' rhythm matching your own, in the dusk of an empty parking lot. A shadow that jumps against a wall in a room in which you know you are alone.

But think! A thing so huge it will dismember your world can be invisible. It can be a germ. A scent. It can be an absence.

You see, I had felt my leg open smoothly, like a knife with a well-balanced mechanism. But it had not.

A cascade of thoughts, like the fountain from a child's sparkler, showered over me: the phantom limb phenomenon, the precursor to a stroke, a paralysis caused by some virus. My first instinct was to scream. Instead, like any sane person, I tried again.

My leg refused.

Metallic, icy sweat burst from my pores, bathing my face and neck, painting gleaming half-moons under my breasts. I dampened like a true mermaid in my "mermaid's clothes." From the corner of my eye, I glanced at my friend, Cathy, who took the class with me, as her arms branched and she arched down over her own leg. Her eyes, closed in concentration, suddenly flipped up, like one of those old venetian blinds, as if she'd heard a crack, a clap, as if I truly had screamed. She looked at me, quizzically, one eyebrow a beckoning finger. I grinned ...

The Breakdown Lane LP. Copyright © by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

New York Times bestseller Jacquelyn Mitchard's novels include The Deep End of the Ocean, Twelve Times Blessed, and The Breakdown Lane. She is also the author of The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship, a collection of her newspaper columns. She lives with her husband and six children in Madison, Wisconsin.

Brief Biography

Madison, Wisconsin
Place of Birth:
Chicago, Illinois
B.A. in English, Rockford College, 1973

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