Deep Down True: A Novel

( 48 )

Overview

From the author of Shelter Me—a funny and poignant novel about having your heart in the right place.

Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice- even to telemarketers-but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad's departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between ...

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Deep Down True

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Overview

From the author of Shelter Me—a funny and poignant novel about having your heart in the right place.

Newly divorced Dana Stellgarten has always been unfailingly nice- even to telemarketers-but now her temper is wearing thin. Money is tight, her kids are reeling from their dad's departure, and her Goth teenage niece has just landed on her doorstep. As she enters the slipstream of post-divorce romance and is befriended by the town queen bee, Dana finds that the tension between being true to yourself and being liked doesn't end in middle school... and that sometimes it takes a real friend to help you embrace adulthood in all its flawed complexity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Familiar material--a newly divorced woman navigating the choppy waters of single parenthood--gets sensitive treatment in this subtle novel by the author of Shelter Me. Connecticut homemaker Dana Stellgarten tends to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even her philandering ex-husband, but she's having a tough time staying nice as she deals with the discovery of her preteen daughter's bulimia, her seven-year-old son's acting out, a friend's betrayal, and her teenage niece's emotional crash landing at her house. Nevertheless, Dana reaches out to the family of a terminally ill doctor, deals with a bull-in-a-china-shop suitor, and even finds love in an unexpected place. Fay deals honestly with Dana's emotional journey as she strives "to understand how what had been true before had changed into what was true now" and gives readers a believable cast, from the daughter struggling with the wolf-pack mentality of middle school to Dana's sometimes obnoxious yet fiercely loving sister. It expertly walks a heavily trodden path. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"Sincere, powerful and heartfelt, Deep Down True will resonate with women everywhere . . . I loved Fay's true-to-life characters and her ability to portray the intricate dynamics of friendship and family in such an immediately recognizable way. There is a 'me too' moment on every page, right down to the satisfying finish."
Emily Giffin, New York Times bestselling author of Where We Belong

"When I wasn't inside the world of this book-because this is a book that you enter instead of merely read-I longed to be. I love it for its intensely human characters and for the way the author grants them their flaws as generously as she celebrates their daily decencies, their persistent hopefulness, their moments of personal grace."
Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of Falling Together and Love Walked In

"Enormously readable and hugely relatable!"
Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author of The Middle Place

"Engrossing, touching, and immensely satisfying. The truth shines on every page. I'd almost be willing to go back to junior high if I could sit at Juliette Fay's lunch table!"
Beth Harbison, New York Times bestselling author of When in Doubt, Add Butter and Thin, Rich, Pretty

"Fay deals honestly with Dana's emotional journey as she strives 'to understand how what had been true before had changed into what was true now' and gives readers a believable cast, from the daughter struggling with the wolf-pack mentality of middle school to Dana's sometimes obnoxious yet fiercely loving sister. It expertly walks a heavily trodden path."
Publishers Weekly

"Fay imbues Dana with the smarts and insecurities that war within most of us. With her comfort zone obliterated, Dana draws on her inner strengths to reconstruct a new foundation for her children in a world where she gets to be the alpha wolf. Highly recommended for fans of women's fiction featuring resilient heroines."
Library Journal

"Heartwarming, funny, well-penned . . . a solid page-turner, right through to the touching end."
Booklist

Library Journal
Dana Stellgarten was on top of her suburban game when her husband pulled the rug out from under her, and now the 45-year-old Connecticut mom can't handle one more thing. Then, her seven-year-old son, Grady, is suddenly moody and belligerent with his friends; the dentist tells Dana that her 12-year-old daughter, Morgan, shows signs of purging; and ex-husband Kenneth backs off on his financial contributions, forcing Dana to accept a temporary part-time job at the dentist's office. When Dana's teenage niece arrives on her doorstep, needing a break from Dana's sister and a change of scene, even romantic overtures from Grady's football coach and an invitation of friendship from a stylish neighbor may not be enough to get Dana back on solid ground. VERDICT Fay (Shelter Me) imbues Dana with the smarts and insecurities that war within most of us. With her comfort zone obliterated, Dana draws on her inner strengths to reconstruct a new foundation for her children in a world where she gets to be the alpha wolf. Highly recommended for fans of women's fiction featuring resilient heroines. [Eight-city tour; reading group guide.]—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143118510
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/25/2011
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 696,741
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Juliette Fay

Juliette Fay received a bachelor's degree from Boston College and a master's degree from Harvard University. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and four children. Shelter Me was her first novel. Deep Down True is her second.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Forty-something Dana Stellgarten has always been nice to everyone, to a fault. These days, however, she's got her hands full and her patience is wearing thin. She's fresh out of a divorce—in a move that even she found painfully predictable, her husband left her for a younger woman—and trying to raise two children on increasingly limited funds in suburban Connecticut. Dana must essentially start over, make some new friends, learn how to date again, and find a job after being at home with her children for years.

If all that weren't enough, her ex, Kenneth, continues to make her life miserable with his insensitive demands, and both of their children seem to be internalizing the pain of the divorce. Twelve-year-old Morgan is starting to exhibit some suspicious behavior, and Dana suspects that she might be in the early stages of an eating disorder. Her once happy-go-lucky seven-year-old, Grady is acting out in school, alienating his friends and irking his teachers. Determined to provide a better home life than she had growing up with her hapless mother and depressed father, Dana will do everything she can to make her kids feel safe, secure and loved.

Then one day Dana's sixteen-year-old niece, Alder, arrives unannounced: She's running away from home, though she won't say why, and needs somewhere to stay, far away from her contradictorily controlling bohemian mother, Dana's sister, Connie. Dana, kindhearted as always, can only say yes, hoping that she can somehow make the new arrangement work while finding a way to keep her infuriated sister at bay.

Even with all these moving parts, Dana eventually starts to settle into post-divorce life. She volunteers delivering meals to a local family in need. She starts dating Grady's enthusiastic football coach. Nora, the popular and glamorous mother of Morgan's new BFF, befriends her, and Dana feels flattered. But it's when she begins working as a temporary receptionist for her dentist, Dr. Tony Sakimoto, that Dana finally finds a real connection, one that will teach her that nothing is more important than being true to your own heart.

Juliette Fay's second book is a tender, often humorous, story of rising above the unexpected, sometimes disappointing circumstances of life. Dana is the quintessential everywoman, finding her own voice and inner strength just when she needs it most. Fay has a knack for creating authentic characters whom readers will come to love. With savvy dialogue and compelling emotional insight, Deep Down True is a novel with intelligence and soul.

ABOUT JULIETTE FAY

Juliette Fay received a bachelor's degree from Boston College and a master's degree from Harvard University. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and four children. Her debut novel, Shelter Me, was on the Indie Next List, was chosen as a Target Bookmarked Pick for 2009, and was a 2009 Massachusetts Book Award Book of the Year. Deep Down True is her second novel.

A CONVERSATION WITH JULIETTE FAY

Q. While Dana and Kenneth's divorce is a central event in this novel, it has mostly happened before the story begins. What inspired you to write this book and why did you decide to start the narrative where you have?

I was inspired by the fascinating crucible of the middle school experience, and how sometimes we as adults can be thrown back into those feelings of desperately wanting to belong, while also trying to follow our hearts. At any age these two things—belonging and being true to ourselves—can sometimes be hard to accomplish simultaneously.

The narrative starts after the divorce because the divorce itself isn't as interesting as the way it shatters Dana's complacency with the life she knows—a barely lukewarm marriage and an existence that revolves around everyone but her. It challenges her to stop settling for so little and start building a life that is worthy of her.

Q. The kids' dialogue—from Morgan's explanation of "emo" to Grady's request for muscle-building pancakes—is pitch-perfect. How much of it comes from your own life as a mother? Do your children read your books?

I guess it's kind of like moving to another country—eventually you learn the lingo. And for the stuff I don't get right, I have a native speaker in my teenaged daughter, Brianna, who corrects my drafts. She's the oldest and the only one of my four children who's read my novels. The boys have never asked to. Maybe if I were writing thrillers or fantasy they'd be more interested.

I rarely if ever quote my children—or anyone's children—in my books. I have too much fun making it up myself. But I do use little common phrases, mannerisms and reactions. As a writer I'm lucky to have such ready access.

Q. The theme of Dana's volunteer work with the McPherson family provides an interesting point of contrast throughout the story, in some senses keeping Dana's own troubles in perspective. What function did it serve for you as the author?

Making the dinners for the McPhersons is emblematic of Dana, who is such a selfless giver that even as her own life is falling apart, she never stops doing for others. The flip side of that coin is that it also serves as a self-soothing behavior. Her rituals of kindness keep at bay the harshness of a world where people kill themselves and husbands leave and kids are cruel. And hey, it's food, Dana's drug of choice.

The dinners are more than just food, though. They serve as an entrance ticket into the life of another family in the throes of even greater adversity than Dana's. And it's a way for her to tap into her true self, which is not about what she can do—she cannot fix anything for the McPhersons. But she can offer her particularly wonderful brand of compassion, which is one of her essential strengths.

Q. Your portrayal of bulimia is quite nuanced and believable, particularly the ways adults unwittingly reinforce kids' negative behaviors. Did you research this topic or come to it more organically?

I did a lot of research, read reports, talked to experts, poured over Web sites, went to a conference. The Web sites that anorexic and bulimic girls themselves put up about what they do and how and why are absolutely haunting. I also interviewed a couple of adult friends who'd been bulimic. Ultimately I kept thinking back to a friend from my younger years who was anorexic. I confronted her and begged her to stop starving herself and she told me, "I want my mother to make me stop." I'll never forget it because it was then that I knew she was in for a long haul. Her mother was utterly checked out. It made me see that even as we are leaving childhood behind and insisting that we don't need help, we want our parents' guidance and leadership.

Q. Alder is a really compelling personality—a smart, surly teen with a truly compassionate heart and a natural way with metaphors—and in many ways she is the lynchpin of the novel. Was she an important character in the book's conception, or did she come to be more prominent in later drafts?

Alder was there right from the start—even before Dana! I had originally envisioned her for my first novel, Shelter Me, but there wasn't a spot that was quite right for her. So I knew I would include her in my next story, which turned out to be Deep Down True.

I'm glad I waited, because in her offhanded, teenagery way, Alder is the perfect role model for Dana. As they both struggle for healing and repair, Alder is willing to be alone or hang out with the very unpopular Jet. Refusing to cave to her domineering mother, she goes to Dana, who, Alder knows, will give her the support she needs without making her concede to outside expectations. And Alder quietly demonstrates for Dana how not to be such a doormat—from getting Grady to help clear the table, to standing up for herself in the final showdown with Ethan. Everyone should be lucky enough to have an old soul like Alder in her life.

Q. Early on, you write, "The story of Dana's divorce bored even her." Was it a challenge to take on the all-too-familiar trope of a middle-aged husband leaving his wife for a younger woman?

Not really. While it's familiar, it's no less dramatic because of the tsunami it can create in its wake. And I don't really see this as a divorce story so much as an awakening that happens to have been launched by a divorce.

Q. Dana's lack of assertiveness has gotten her into lots of trouble—in her marriage, in her social life, with her own family—and her journey in this book is to find her own voice amid the many forceful personalities in her life. Ironically, the less she seems to care about other people's opinions, the more these people ultimately seem to like or at least respect the new Dana. Can you elaborate on this dynamic?

I think that in each one of us there is what some would call the True Self, or the Divine Self, or the Center. We get pulled out of that center all the time—by stress or disrespect or hormones or any one of a million things. And if we pay attention, we can feel when we're in and when we're out. There's something very appealing about being with someone who knows her True Self and can be that self a lot of the time, because it helps us discover and love our own. Dana's growing self-respect is ultimately a stronger draw than her relentless niceness.

Q. By being let into Dana's head, the reader becomes acutely aware of the millions of decisions that must be processed on the fly in an average parent's day. To your mind, what makes a good parent, and where do Dana and Kenneth fit in on that scale?

Oh my gosh, is there a harder question than what makes a good parent? Loving but not indulgent, attentive but not hovering, strict but not controlling… I can say all these things, but they hold different meanings for every parent and each kid may need a different balance of each.

Dana and Kenneth are well-intentioned parents. They love their children. But while Dana is a bit of a hoverer, Kenneth is fairly disengaged—just like in their marriage. They both learn to correct for that more by the end of the story. And they learn to parent better together as they do, which is tricky enough for married couples, and even harder—and more important—when there's a divorce.

Q. The scene where Dana purges to feel closer to her daughter is both harrowing and poignant. Was this a difficult scene to write?

Absolutely. I never thought I'd ever write such a detailed account of vomiting, of all things! But while there are many examples of Dana's failings, I wanted to show one of her great strengths, which is the length to which she will go to understand fully and be compassionate toward the people she loves.

Q. The notion of "deep down true" is a wonderful one—that we all have some essential truth of who we are and what we want inside. Did the title drive the story or did you arrive at the title in the writing process?

For my first novel, Shelter Me, I had a title in mind as I wrote that ultimately didn't work out. This time, I decided not to title it until the end, and see what the story offered up as a suitable name, which I think it did in Deep Down True. There was, however, a phrase that I kept in the forefront of my mind as I wrote to hold me on course. That phrase was "the tension between being true to yourself and being liked," which, while not a good title, was a very helpful compass for the journey.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Dana's husband tells her that the divorce is his "best chance for happiness." What does this statement say about him? What is Dana's best chance for happiness?
  • Throughout the book, Dana struggles to allow herself to feel anger. Is this emotion productive for her, and if so, how?
  • Sometimes Dana learns about herself through her children's observations. How do her children perceive her and how are their insights helpful to her?
  • In times of stress, Dana turns to food to comfort herself. How might her behaviors have directly or indirectly influenced Morgan?
  • For Grady, his dad's golf ball is a precious gift. What does it represent and how does it comfort him?
  • There are many parallels between Dana's social life and her daughter Morgan's middle school lunchroom as they jockey for position among the seemingly popular, more powerful people. How do the Kimmis and Noras of the world shape who we are?
  • Dana must eventually confront the unspoken truth of her past and what really happened to her father. How has this event affected her and her sister? How are they similar or different as a result?
  • Dana eventually begins to regain her sympathies for her ex-husband, even as she continues to cope with her own disappointment and anger. Why does she start to see his point of view, and how does this change her behavior?
  • As Dana's relationship with Tony blossoms, it becomes clear that he is giving her something that she doesn't get from other people in her life. What is this quality, and how does it bring out the best in her?
  • By the end of the book, Dana's life has changed significantly. How is it different and which of these changes surprised you?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 48 )
Rating Distribution

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(27)

4 Star

(9)

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2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 48 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 4, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    For all ages to enjoy.

    This entertaining tale begins with a typical state more people find themselves in than we'd like to admit. Dealing with anger, disappointment and pain, Dana, a newly single mom of two children, (7 and 12), carries on with her chaotic life after her husband abandons her for a younger woman..THE CAD! The characters have all the ingredients of real life people, with flaws and afflictions but also warmth, humor, and caring to hold your attention throughout. Everyday life is a soap opera that incorporates excitement, deep emotion, tragedy, frustrations, love, worry, and humor that ultimately brings harmony. A satisfying ending with healing, strength, and forgiveness makes you close the book with a smile. This is a storyline all ages can get something out of. You won't be disappointed.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2011

    Make new BFF's! You'll want these characters in your own life!

    You'll want to head to bed early just so you can continue reading Juliette Fay's second book. "Deep Down True" made me feel like my own life could be turned into a book - she's written about people who have our sorts of lives and problems. The book makes the reader realize that, when viewed through a certain lens - all of our lives could be incredible reads to other people. We all go through similar kinds of experiences but of course we behave and react differently according to our hard wiring, background and idiosyncrasies. That's what Fay picks up on with each of her characters. There is familiarity but you can't wait to see what happens. The main character is someone you love dearly but want to shake up a bit. You want her to get nasty but you know it will disappoint if she does. Sound familiar?

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2011

    A superbly written book about the nuances of relationships (Dana's and your own)

    From that lovely, enticing cover to the very last page, Deep Down True scoops you up out of your life and into Dana Stellgarten's. You get mad when people are mean to her, and you sympathize with her less-than-perfect children (because everyone's children fall short of perfect), and you cry when sad things happen. This book makes you think about the different ways that people parse the world and the people in it. The tiny details are spot-on (describing the floor of a 7 year old boy's room as covered in boy mulch), and the multi-layered, multi-generational parent/child relationships and friendships that make you reflect upon your own. I love books like this that are so enthralling while you're reading them, and then bits of the book stay with you even when you're done reading. Staying power, that's what this book has. Grab it and enjoy it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2011

    Touching, beautifully written story

    I really enjoyed reading Deep Down True, the story is relatable, the writing is so well-done and all the characters (even supporting) are well-drawn, I was immediately sucked into their lives. The small details of a mom's day to day, which the author has such a beautiful way of describing, make me truly appreciate her as a writer. Some of the issues Dana Stellgarten faces resonate with me as I have a 6th grader, as Dana does, and I was inspired by how Dana handled the very tough issues they faced. I love the way, that despite the fact the Dana struggles with many serious issues in her own life, the story has her supporting a family with a truly tragic situation which keeps all the various story lines in perspective.

    After reading a Juliette Fay novel, I feel like I do after a really good Sunday at church, inspired, hopeful, and reminded of all the really wonderful things in this life that I'm grateful for.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2011

    Not even close to Shelter Me

    After reading Juliette Fay's previous novel "Shelter Me", I could not wait for her next book to come out. When it was finally released I had just gotten my Nook and it was my 1st purchase. "Deep Down True" does not even come remotely close to the quality, emotion and humor produced in her previous novel. It was just okay. Really nothing special. Each chapter seemed to repeat the character's thoughts over and over just to fill up pages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2011

    A compelling story of parenthood, divorce, & starting over

    It is a brave new and uncharted world for kids in the era of Facebook, Twitter, divorce and the like. For a senior citizen such as myself who has had a life full of kids as parent, grandparent, and educator, I got a fascinating insight into the contemporary world of raising kids. Here is a story where the struggles of modern living become a compelling and insightful drama. I found myself caring about the mom, Dana, and the other characters in a profound way - yes, I did experience some "deep down true" in viewing their lives with their struggles and losses and their triumphs. They were so completely interesting that I didn't want to put the book down. A great read!! Congratulations to Fay and I am eager to read her next story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2011

    An outstanding book at all levels

    I absolutely loved Deep Down True. The book sucked me in right from the very first page. Some say this is a book about middle school, but it's really far more about Dana, the middle-aged mom, who comes into her own when change rocks her white picket world.

    Fay's writing is pitch perfect - harmony that manages to be exciting and comforting at the same time with just the right highs and lows to make you want the book never to end. I especially loved the many funny moments, too. This is a fantastic book, even better than Shelter Me which I also loved.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 27, 2011

    Loved Deep Down True!

    As soon as you open Juliette Fay's new novel, you are drawn into the lives of characters who are so warm, wonderful and real that you don't want the story to end. It has been a long time since I read a book that I couldn't put down; Deep Down True is that kind of book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2011

    A Must Read!

    With the perfect combination of light and serious, Juliette Fay quickly weaves you right into the fabric of Deep Down True. I couldn't get over feeling like I was standing there next to Dana and seeing her world through Fay's skillfully rendered descriptions. (Is "boy mulch" not the perfect image of a 7 year old's bedroom floor?!) Her keen observation of people and life sparkle with humor and truth on every page. I hated for the book to end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2011

    Couldn't Put It Down

    I love a book that draws you in until you can't think of anything else except for how you are going to sneak away and read some more. This book made me think about life in general as well as my life in particular. It was totally entertaining and highly thought-provoking. Definitely lots of good fodder for book group discussions. I give it my highest recommendation.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2011

    Highly recommended

    Juliette Fay is a keen observer of contemporary adolescent issues told with humor and style. Her dialogue is totally with the times. She knows her characters from the inside out. A real good read with a great ending. Try Fay's first novel "Shelter Me" also.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2013

    Excellent read!

    Juliette Fay is a new author for me. I "discovered" her when I visited a friend in St. Louis. We spend a lot of time perusing the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble, reading the inside cover or backs of many books. Fay's book covers caught my eye and I am very glad they did!
    This is the second novel I have read by Fay. I thoroughly enjoy her style of writing and her story lines. You are drawn in to her characters' lives very quickly!

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  • Posted November 8, 2012

    A very good read. The characters are like people in your neighb

    A very good read. The characters are like people in your neighborhood or kids' schools and Mrs. Fay understands the nuances of letting go of our children slowly but surely. By the end of the book, I really did find myself hoping for the best for each character. Some of the scenes are laugh out loud funny too. I will read another of her books!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

    Good read!

    A little slow to start... ended up being a great read. I actually was a bit dissapointed that it had to end!

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  • Posted August 9, 2012

    Dull

    I really wanted to like this book. I couldn't get enough of Shelter Me and was excited to read another book by a great author. I just couldn't connect with the characters. I found them to be dull and I didn't really care about their problems. I kept reading ahead to find a happy ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2012

    I couldn't get past the first few chapters after several tries.

    I couldn't get past the first few chapters after several tries. The writing felt "high-schoolish" and the storyline trite. I wanted something light, but this book was too light!

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  • Posted June 16, 2012

    With the exception of the repeated references to "sugar-fre

    With the exception of the repeated references to "sugar-free lemonade," this was a beautiful novel. The characters were exactly right and the story was heartfelt and poignant. I want these people in MY life! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2012

    An A d A good read

    A good read-

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2012

    Real

    Loved this book. Very well written. The storyline addresses the trials of today. Hope she keeps on writing. I will buy her books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2011

    Wow!

    Absolutely loved this book. Laughing and crying out loud at the gym

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