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The Gap Year

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From the widely praised author of The Yokota Officers Club, a keenly felt, wonderfully written novel about love that can both bind family members together and make them free, set in that precarious moment before your child leaves home for college.

Cam Lightsey, lactation consultant, is a single mom, a suburban misfit who’s given up her rebel dreams to set her only child on an upward path.

Aubrey Lightsey, a ...

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Overview

From the widely praised author of The Yokota Officers Club, a keenly felt, wonderfully written novel about love that can both bind family members together and make them free, set in that precarious moment before your child leaves home for college.

Cam Lightsey, lactation consultant, is a single mom, a suburban misfit who’s given up her rebel dreams to set her only child on an upward path.

Aubrey Lightsey, a pretty, shy girl who plays clarinet, is ready to explode from wanting her “real” life to begin.

When Aubrey meets Tyler Moldenhauer, football idol of students and teachers alike, the fuse is lit. Aubrey metastasizes into Cam’s worst teen nightmare: full of secrets and silences, uninterested in college. Worse, on the sly she’s in touch with her father, who left when she was two to join NEXT!—a celebrity-ridden cult—where he’s a headline grabber. As the novel unfolds—with emotional fireworks, humor, and edge-of-your-seat suspense—the dreams of daughter, mother, and father chart an inevitable, but perhaps not fatal, collision . . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bird (How Perfect Is That) takes aim at the late-breaking angst of soon-to-be empty-nester Cam Lightsey in her sharp latest. As a lactation consultant, Cam guides new women through their first uncertain days of motherhood, and though single mom Cam (her husband ran off years ago to join a cult) has always been confident in her relationship with her own daughter, Aubrey, a clarinetist in the high school marching band, their bond sours in Aubrey's senior year when Aubrey ditches the band for Tyler Moldenhauer, the quarterback who rescues her from a bout with heatstroke. Two days before Aubrey is due to leave for college, she goes AWOL, and Cam has to face the possibility that all the hopes and dreams she had for Aubrey might not be realized. Told from both Cam's and Aubrey's perspectives, the narrative teases out the ever-deepening mysteries of parents and children as they grow up and apart. Bird's breezy style and spot-on observations of contemporary family life give this headlong story a fizzy energy that carries through to the unexpected conclusion. (July)
From the Publisher
“A smart, witty take on one of the classic milestones of parenting . . . Full of insight, acceptance and, above all, love.”
—Sharyn Vane, Austin American-Statesman
 
“While pacifying us with gut-bucket humor, the wicked writer makes us think! At its big, wide-open heart, The Gap Year is about self-discovery, about finding and making your own way in the world, a process that, apparently, continues until we die.”—Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express
 
“Humorous and lively . . . A perceptive if lighthearted depiction of the process of separation from the points of view of a mother and daughter.” —Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
 
“Bird’s wit shines through on every page—she’s the kind of author readers all wish they could spend an hour kvetching with over margaritas—but she also has a real knack for eavesdropping on her characters’ inner lives.” —Joy Tipping, Dallas Morning News
 
 “A soulful portrait of that awkward, exhilarating and bittersweet point in a mother’s relationship with her child—the time to let go.” —Roberta MacInnins, Houston Chronicle
 
“At times funny, at times heartbreaking, this is fine fiction at its best.” —Ann La Farge, Hudson Valley News
 
The Gap Year is satire with heart . . . In this smart novel, love trumps the past and the expected future.” —Jeffrey Ann Goudie, The Kansas City Star 
 
 “Sarah Bird’s latest novel, The Gap Year, is a must-read for anyone who loves mother-daughter stories. . . . It becomes nearly impossible to put down once broiling tensions come to a nice simmer.”   —Kelly Blewett, Book Page
 
“A compelling read [that] builds to a satisfying and surprisingly tender conclusion. The Gap Year is sure to please Bird’s fans and readers struggling with their own mother-daughter issues.”—Amy Watts, Library Journal
 
“Told from alternating points-of-view, Bird’s handling of the familiar parent-teen clash of wills is accomplished with memorable, memorably realistic poignancy.” —Booklist
 
The Gap Year, haunting and laugh-out-loud funny, speaks to a mother’s soul.  On every luminous page, I’m reminded how being a mother is like being a contortionist: we latch on even as we let go.  Cam contemplates her daughter:  ‘Certain and human, such a hard mix.’   This is a page-turner of a book for every mother who ever worried she wasn’t up to the hard parts—gracefully accepting the you-never-understood-me complaints our children make; rising above the condescension of smug, over-achieving mothers; accepting our own self-doubt as we measure ourselves against impossible ideals.  Cam’s dilemma will feel like your dilemma from the moment you begin reading.”  —Debra Monroe, award-winning author of On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain
  
“Told from both Cam’s and Aubrey’s perspectives, the narrative teases out the ever-deepening mysteries of parents and children as they grow up and apart. Bird’s breezy style and spot-on observations of contemporary family life give this headlong story a fizzy energy that carries through to the unexpected conclusion.” —Publishers Weekly
 
"Writing so sharp, smart, funny, and addictive, it’s as if Molly Ivins had given birth to a novelist daughter." —Z.Z. Packer
 
“Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, The Gap Year is a pitch-perfect portrayal of a mother and teenage daughter on the precipice of seismic change. Everyone is given full rein in this snappy, deliciously vicious, modern spin on growing up, growing old, and letting go. Bird's timing is impeccable." —Cristina Garcia
  
Library Journal
Traditionally, a gap year is a year taken by a young adult after secondary school and before starting college. However, in Bird's latest novel, the title alludes to the break in a mother-daughter relationship during the daughter's senior year of high school. Single mom Camilla feels her daughter, Aubrey, beginning to pull away from her, especially after Aubrey embarks on a romance with classmate Tyler. Add in the sudden reappearance of Aubrey's father, who years ago left the family to join a cultlike religion (it might sound familiar to fans of certain Hollywood types), and gaps in this family open and close at blinding speed. The narrative alternates between Camilla's current perspective over the course of a few days and Aubrey's retelling of the previous year. This technique makes for a compelling read and builds to a satisfying and surprisingly tender conclusion. VERDICT Not as outrageously comedic or over the top as Bird's How Perfect Is That, this title is wry and funny, with a more grounded story. Sure to please Bird's fans and readers struggling with their own mother-daughter issues.—Amy Watts, Univ. of Georgia Lib., Athens
Kirkus Reviews

The daughter's side of the story, told in parallel with her mother's, fills in the gaps in a smart, soft-centered, strung-out tale of parental stand-off and reconciliation.

Striving to be Teflon-coated, Zen Mama ("delayed-adolescence annoyance and college jitters expressed as bitchiness slide right off Zen Mama") is more often seen simply as the "boob-whispering (i.e. lactation consultant) ex-wife of a cult bigwig." Bird's (How Perfect is That, 2008, etc.) stressed-out central character, aka Cam Lightsey, is a heaving mass of anxiety and guilt. Her daughter Aubrey has gone missing on her 18th birthday, the day the pair are supposed to go to the bank to clear the trust fund laid down by ex-husband Martin for Aubrey's first-year college fees. The reasons for the disappearance, which have developed secretly during the preceding 12 months and involve a football jock and ambitions at odds with Cam's, are chronicled in alternating chapters swapping Aubrey's sulky teen point-of-view with Cam's sassy, self-deprecatingly–voiced account of meeting Martin in Morocco, loving him, losing him to the cult of Next and stranding herself in the suburbs as a working single mom for Aubrey's sake. Bird's snappy style compensates in part for a slender story with too many cliffhanging chapter ends, but it doesn't excuse the fairy-tale ending.

Disappointing. Wit and feistiness collapse into cotton candy.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307592798
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/5/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Bird

Sarah Bird is the author of seven previous novels, most recently How Perfect Is That, The Flamenco Academy, and The Yokota Officers Club. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt

I once believed that I was physiologically incapable of being unhappy while submerged in water. Sunk in a bathtub up to my eyeballs, I was as free of earthly cares as a turtle sunning herself.

Yet here I am, wallowing through my tenth lap, feeling prickly and unsettled rather than weightless and dolphin-sleek. Instead of soaring into silent galaxies, I am snarled up in annoyance that my right eye is stinging because these crappy goggles are leaking and that the ladies’ aqua-cardio class in the shallow end is blaring “It’s Raining Men” and that the flip-turning jerk I’m sharing a lane with drowns me every time he powers past and that because I didn’t expose my only child to enough dirt, Aubrey will hit the germ factory that is a college dorm with a weak immune system and that she will die of spinal meningitis.

Although I am a slob and raised Aubrey with plenty of messiness, my worst enemy—Recent Studies—now tells me that I should have gone the extra step and provided actual squalor. Recent Studies says that the absolute best thing for building antibodies is close contact with livestock. If I’d only put a goat in the playpen with my baby she probably wouldn’t have asthma today.

I speed up my stroke, pushing my hands beneath me like a Mississippi paddle wheeler, annoyances scattering in my mighty wake.
But, persistent as a school of piranhas, the worries and regrets stay right with me and continue nibbling. They have massed for this attack because Aubrey turns eighteen tomorrow. The day before she leaves for college. Not that we’ll be doing any celebrating together. She’s already made it clear that she plans to spend every second until she gets on the plane with Tyler.

I force myself to ignore the “Hallelujah, it’s rainin’ men!” chorus and concentrate on the comforting slurp and slap of my hands cutting into the water. I tune in to the stretch of muscles and tendons pulleying in harmony. I pay conscious attention to the shifting mosaic of wobbling squares of late-afternoon sunlight sliding across the turquoise pool bottom. I plan out where I will install the wheelchair ramp after meningitis renders my only child a vegetable.

Is it too late for the goat?

Hydrotherapy is not working. I yank off the leaky goggles just in time to see that my best friend, Dori Chotzinoff, has finally emerged from the dressing room. Dori always says that her last name is pronounced like you’re saying, “One shot’s enough” even though, for Dori, one shot is never enough. She sashays over with her head cocked to the side, tucking her hair into the retro flowered cap with chin strap that she wears to look Mad Men–ish and to save her expensive dye jobs. Her vampire-pale skin is coated with a layer of sunscreen thick enough to mute her many tattoos to pastel smudges of blue and green.

I squint into the sun. “I almost gave up on you.”

She gives me a little Mae West pinup pose, one hand on her cocked hip, the other pretending to puff up her hair, and says, “Sorry, Cam, had to gild the lily.” Dori kneels down and waits for the guy in the lane with me heaving and whipping himself through the water with a butterfly stroke to reach us. When he’s close enough to hear her, she yells out, “Excuse me, sir!”

Ignoring her, he barrels into a flip turn, and for a split second we are treated to the sight of his upturned ass with its black censor bar of Speedo. He is about to push off and blast away when Dori grabs his ankle.

The butterflier—middle-aged once you see his face—pops out of the water. “What the . . . !” He punches a button on his waterproof watch and snarls, “I’m timing my splits.”

Alert as a herd of gazelle scenting danger on the Serengeti, all heads—the moms rubbing sunscreen on skinny shoulders, the just-turned-teen girls tanning on lounge chairs, the boys waiting in line at the diving board to show off for the girls—swivel in our direction.

Dori jumps in and informs Flip Turn, “We’re sharing this lane.”

“What is your problem?” Flip gestures to the lane next to us. “There’s only one person in that lane.”
Dori puts her arm over my shoulder. “Yeah, but that one person is not my BFF, Cam Lightsey.”

Flip starts to argue so I lean my head on Dori’s shoulder and say, “Plus, we’re lesbians. Sorry.” We’re not. But it’s fun to say. And it ends the discussion.

Flip shakes his head, dunks under the white floats of the lane rope, jerks a thumb in our direction, and announces loudly to the woman in the next lane, “They’re making me move.”

I grab my kickboard, hand Dori hers, and decree our favorite cardiovascular activity, “Kick and kvetch!”

As we chug past Flip, busily resetting his watch, Dori yells out for his benefit, “Hey, Cam! Sorry for breaking up your romance with
Mr. Banana Hammock!”

Dori is like my grandmother Bobbi Mac. Not the piercings or tattoos or broken marriage to the lead singer in an Aerosmith tribute band, but her take-no-shit, get-the-party-started vibe. Spunk—Bobbi Mac was big on spunk, something she didn’t think her own daughter, my mom, Rose, had had in sufficient quantity. Spunk is Dori’s middle name. Single-handedly, she almost made being a Parkhaven outcast fun. Dori loved to laugh over which mom had “shit the biggest brick” when she dropped casual asides about her years as a member of the all-girl band Tampaxxx. “Triple-X,” she’d clarify with a lascivious wink. “I guess you know why.”

“So,” Dori asks as we stretch out and churn the water behind us with our fluttering feet. “What are we obsessing about today?”

I share my thoughts on brain infections and barnyard animals.

“Yes? And? So? Aubrey gets a shot.”

“They have a shot for meningitis?”

“Der. Cam, you’re a medico.”

“I’m a lactation consultant.”

“Medico enough for me. You’re supposed to get the shot before you ship your kid off to college. Twyla’s pediatrician told me that.”

At the mention of her daughter’s name, the blotches Dori gets when she’s trying not to cry appear like scarlet storm clouds around her overplucked eyebrows. The white sunscreen lightens them to a pretty pink. Her grip on the kickboard tightens until the spongy material dents beneath her clenched fingers and her flutter-kick turns into an exercise in grim determination that propels her ahead of me. I let her surge forward; Dori always needs a few seconds after her daughter’s name comes up to put her tough-girl front back on.

Twyla moved out over a year ago to “tour” with Dori’s ex and his band, and the only contact they have now is a phone call every few months in which Twyla details all the ways in which Dori was a horrible mother and ruined her life. Then tells her where to send money.

Meanwhile, the inoculation news lets me relax and I frolic through the water, happy as an otter. This carefree state lasts for a lap and a half before the real problem surfaces again and it’s not meningitis. My kicking slows to a near halt.

Dori, recovered, her face again uniformly pale, waits for me to catch up, then, commenting on my look of brooding worry, demands, “What? Tyler Moldenhauer?”

At the mention of Aubrey’s boyfriend’s name, I moan, “A suburban white boy, redneck football hero with no plans for college. If
Aubrey’s first serious boyfriend had been Glenn Beck, I could not have been more surprised.”

“Surprises,” Dori repeats wistfully. “So many surprises.”

“When did he take over Aubrey’s life so completely?” I ask, even as I try to figure out when my daughter turned into a stranger. Six months ago? No, it’s been longer than that. In that time, she’s become like a guest forced against her will to live in my house. A guest who would happily pack up and leave and move in with said boyfriend if I pushed her even the tiniest bit. I keep waiting for this evil spell to be broken. That it will be like the flu and one morning she’ll wake up smiling and help me make pancakes and tell me she’ll set the table as soon as she finishes this chapter. That she’ll be my little nine-year-old again, the one who saved up her allowance to make me a memory bracelet for my birthday then snuggled up next to me and told me what each bead strung onto the wire coiled around my wrist meant.

See this?”

“The turquoise one?”

“That’s for your favorite color and because you love to swim. This little microphone is for you being such a bad singer.”

“I’m a bad singer!?”

“Really bad.”

“This one is beautiful. Is it ivory?”

“No! Do you know where ivory comes from? Elephants! Poachers!

It’s just the color of ivory.”

“Right. Oh, look, it’s a tiny baby curled into a ball.”

“That’s for your job and also for me. Inside of you.”

“Aubrey, I love it. I love it so much.”

“So,” Dori continues. “Aubrey’s boyfriend is not who you would have picked out of a catalog.”

“Dori, he’s got her slaving away in a damn roach coach. She’s supposed to leave for college in two days and she absolutely refuses to come with me to claim her trust money. That damn trust was the reason I signed off on Martin’s—”

“Tsoo! Tsoo! Tsoo!” Dori pretends to spit three times in my direction to ward off the evil eye cast when I invoked the cursed name of my ex. Joking about our exes and being single mom outcasts in the suburbs is how we’ve survived.

“—screw job of a divorce settlement. I mean, how hard could it be to claim your college tuition? Aubrey knows I can’t do it without her. We both have to be present. We could have gotten it anytime in the past two weeks, but will she take a few hours to do this one simple thing? No. She keeps putting me off.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to take anything from Martin.”

“Who knows? She doesn’t bring him up much. Like, ever.”

“Can you blame her? Given that the school board is in an uproar over evolution, being the daughter of a cardinal or bishop or grand wizard or whatever of a church that believes we all descended from a race of space travelers isn’t exactly the magic ticket to becoming homecoming queen at Parkhaven High.”

I glance over at Dori so that she knows I am not amused. “Believe it or not, Dori, something as ridiculous as having your husband leave you for a . . .” I stutter, trying to come up with an epithet strong enough to contain my hatred for Next and have to settle for, “. . . a nutball religion actually makes it more painful, not less.”

“Oops. Sorry. Sixteen years. Too soon, huh?”

I splash Dori.

“Hey, at least you lost your husband to something kind of spiritual. Mine ditched me so he could wear scarves and tights and rat his hair up and sing ‘Walk This Way.’ ” I don’t laugh.

“Cam, don’t stress. Aubrey is a good kid. Too good, really. She is going to be fine.”

Fine.

Our relationship is built on Dori telling me that Aubrey is going to be fine and me not telling Dori anything about how unfine Twyla is. Dori might actually be the only mother in Parkhaven for whom “fine” really is fine. The only one who doesn’t want superfine. Superior. Sublime. A five-point GPA and a full ride to Harvard. I know Aubrey is going to be fine. Eventually. But I want so much more than fine. And I want it to start in two days when she leaves for Peninsula State College.

“What can I do? Drag her to the bank bodily?”

“We all know how the dragging bodily ends.”

Dori is referring to the night last December when the roads turned into chutes of black ice and I tried and failed to keep Aubrey from going off with Tyler. That was the first night she didn’t come home. But not the last. Ever since Black Ice Night, Aubrey and I have both known that habit, manners, and whatever residual love she still has for me are the only things keeping her under my roof. We know that Tyler Moldenhauer would welcome her with open arms anytime she wanted. So I walk on eggshells with my child and will until the second I shove her onto that plane the day after tomorrow.

Dori splashes along beside me, a living reminder that a child can simply get up and walk out your door and not come back. I turn to her and say, “God, if only I hadn’t made those stupid comments about—”

“Do not say ‘hat,’ ” Dori cuts me off. “Cam. I am warning you. You can say ‘solar protection apparel.’ Or you can say ‘brimmed headgear.’ But one more time with the damn hat and I will . . .” She circles her raised fist like Popeye warming up to clobber Bluto.

I clamp my lips into a tight seam and press my crossed index fingers against them, X-ing out the forbidden topic.

But as I flutter-kick away, all I can think about is Aubrey and that damn hat. That hat was where it all started four years ago. She was a skinny freshman in baggy cotton shorts and a T-shirt, heading off to the first day of band camp, when the hat made its debut. Since the name of the landlocked team playing for her landlocked high school in our landlocked state is the Pirates, the hat was a goofy tricornered number with a giant white plume curling off it.

This had caused me to greet my skinny freshman with an “Ahoy, matey, did your parrot die?”

Aubrey, who’d recently discovered how funny talking like a pirate was, answered, “Aye, me hearty. ’Twas a burial at sea.”

Pirates became a running joke between us. When she was a sophomore, I once served her artichokes, arugula, and arroz con pollo for dinner, and we “arred” our way through the entire meal. Sometime during her junior year, though, she stopped laughing when I called her a scurvy bilge rat and threatened to shiver her timbers. I should have noticed and dropped the pirate teasing then.

Certainly I should have ceased and desisted long before the start of her senior year last August. Exactly one year ago today, which was when everything started to spiral out of control. If only I had stopped my stupid teasing, she might have worn the damn hat and not gotten heat exhaustion and not dropped out of band. Certainly that goofy feathered hat would have immunized her against Tyler Moldenhauer’s attention. If only I hadn’t persisted in making those moronic jokes. But like a hummingbird returning to an empty feeder, I kept going back for one more drop of nectar, one more shared joke.

The hat, though, that’s just a theory. I get frantic sometimes wishing I knew for certain. I think that if I had the whole story, I might be able to reverse the evil spell, cure her psychic flu, and send her off to college with a happy heart. Even if having all the details gave me no power at all, I would still give anything to know what really happened to my daughter on that day one year ago.

AUGUST 12, 2009

It’s the first day of my senior year. Well, unofficially, school isn’t really in session yet, but the whole band has to be here a week early for “camp.” The big marquee sign at the edge of the field where we march reads: AUGUST 12, 2009. 10:43 A.M. 92 DEGREES, WELCOME, BAND CAMP!!!! SCHOOL STARTS IN ONE WEEK! ! ! . . . WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 19!!!! SEE YOU THEN! GO, PIRATES!!!!

Rivers of sweat run down my back. It is way too hot for all those freaking exclamation points. And way, way too hot for Mr. Shupe, who is bellowing at me, “Clarinets, wake up!” I try to focus. “Lightsey, get your section under control! You’re a senior now! Start acting like one!”

Once Shupe finishes bullying me and the section I lead, he moves on to torture the freshman trombone players. “T-bones! Did they teach you the definition of ‘line’ in middle school?” Their section looks like an amoeba wobbling all over the field. Mr. Shupe does not do wobbly. Mr. Shupe does crisp.

Then he tells us what he tells us at the start of every school year about how we are “Shupe’s Troops” and the way they did things “in the Corps.”

The Corps? Dude, you were in the Marine Corps band.

This fake military stuff makes the band boys feel like they’re Green Berets. They are as delusional as Mom, who is always telling me that I am “marching, both literally and figuratively, to the beat of a different drummer” and that “being uncool at Parkhaven is the coolest thing imaginable.”

Uh, right, Mom, hang on to that dream.

Shupe yells at the percussion section, “Drum line! It’s called a line, not a squiggle! What did you all spend your summer doing? Smoking crack?”

The freshman horn players laugh so hard they lose their em - bouchure. Wait until they’re seniors like us and have heard all of
Shupe’s lines often enough to recite them along with him.

I can almost remember when the first day of band was fun. When it was a thrill to be one of a hundred people all marching in perfect, straight lines. When I loved the neatness and crispness of it and felt like

I belonged. Now, though, it is like that moment when you discover that you’re too old to ride the Teacups. That they’re not the tiniest bit scary or fun and that even riding them as a joke, goofing on the whole thing, isn’t fun anymore.

My fingers drip sweat and slide around on the keys, which doesn’t really matter, because I’ve been faking it for the past hour anyway. My lips are barely touching the mouthpiece. The air is too hot to touch. Like I am really going to stick a piece of scorching metal in my mouth. I feel weirdly distant from everything. It is taking more and more energy just to ignore the monster headache squashing my head.

“Lightsey!”

Oops. At first, I think Shupe has noticed that I am fake-fingering and fake-playing, but it is worse than that.

“Where’s your hat? Did you not read the three, count them, three e-mails I sent that specified that for today, and today only, everyone was required to wear their hats?”

Maybe it’s the weird distant feeling, but I shout back, “Sir, yes, sir! I was unable to find said hat! Sir!”

Anyone would have known that I was messing with him with that fake marine stuff. Not Shupe. He believes that this is how the entire world should talk to him—like respectful recruits.

“You’re a senior, Lightsey! You have to set an example! It’s Semper Fi—”

“Not Semper I!” I shout along with him.

Yelling at Shupe is not worth the effort, because now not only is my head pounding insanely, but I don’t seem to have the energy to even sweat anymore. I am suddenly as dry as this dusty field I’ve been tramping back and forth on for the past three years. Then everything gets brighter and brighter. When it starts to seem like a flash has gone off in my face, I signal to Shupe that I am stepping out to get a drink of water.

“Make it fast, Lightsey! You need to tune up your section!”

The water station is on the side between our practice field and the football team’s. Since it is so hot, the football guys are practicing without pads, just the stretchy tees and shorts they wear under their uniforms, so they look like humans instead of the hulking video-game predators they resemble with their shoulder pads on.

It feels like I’ve been walking forever, but the big red-and-yellow Igloo cooler of water doesn’t get any closer. Then everything turns bright. Really bright. The football players seem to be in a movie that has been overexposed. One player separates from the others and heads toward the water station. He looks like he is running in slow motion through a shimmery mirage. The number seven printed in black on his white jersey floats through space. His dark, shoulderlength hair rises and falls with each step. In the overexposed movie, he looks like an invading barbarian, some warrior from an ancient time.

Then the movie gets even slower and everything begins to float— players, Igloo cooler, goalposts. All the sounds—the tweets from the drum major’s whistle, tuba blats, football coaches yelling—they fade farther and farther away. Then I am looking at a pure white sky. Then yummy cool darkness.

“Drink this.”

Water dribbles across my cheeks and into my hair. I open my eyes and am staring at a black number seven. With some effort, I part my lips. The water funnels into my mouth and I swallow. Big mistake. It comes right back up, along with the Diet Cherry 7UP and half a bagel with strawberry cream cheese I had this morning. The barfing brings me around and I notice that I have just puked all over Tyler Moldenhauer.

Even though I’ve spent the past three years marching at every football game Parkhaven ever played in, I made it a point of honor to know as little as possible about the sport. But Tyler Moldenhauer is such a god at Parkhaven that he managed to penetrate even my footballophobic consciousness.

“Sorry.”

“Why? Did you puke on me on purpose? Keep sipping. You get overheated, you puke. Simple as that. I do it at the start of every season. Besides, I never saw anyone puke pink before. Is that a band thing or a girl thing?”

I attempt a smile, but it comes out as rubbery as I feel.

He looks up, searching for help. Someone to take me off his hands. “Your band director guy hasn’t even noticed yet. Is he blind or what?”

“It’s hard to see much when you’ve got your head shoved that far up your butt.”

He laughs and his abs bounce against my ear. When he yells at Shupe—“Uh, man down over here!”—I feel the rumble through my whole body.

Shupe looks over at me, holds his hands up to the sky in irritation, yells, “O’Dell! Acevedo! Get Lightsey to the nurse’s office!”

Tyler helps me up as the two girls run toward me. Everyone considers Wren and Amelia my best friends even though we’ve been drifting apart for a long time. When I am on my feet, he asks, “You OK?” Not wanting to release any more puke breath in his direction, I just nod. Wren and Amelia reach us. He lets me go, but keeps his arms out, ready to catch me. “You got her?”

I say I’m fine and wave Wren and Amelia away. But when I take a step forward, my knees buckle like Bambi learning to walk. Tyler grabs me. “A little help here,” he orders the girls, setting me between them. They feel like tiny pipe-cleaner people compared to Tyler. Like they would crumple if I put any weight on them. My arms around their skinny shoulders, I limp off the field.

The instant we are out of hearing range, Amelia loses it and squeals, “You had your head in Tyler Moldenhauer’s lap!”

“OK,” Wren blurts out, “that means that Amelia and I are now, officially, the only girls at Parkhaven who have not had their heads in Tyler Moldenhauer’s lap. Or their faces, at any rate.”

At that point, I am supposed to go, “Wren! You’re so bad!” and slap at her and get all giddy and hectic. But I can’t say anything. These two girls who I ate lunch with almost every day since freshman year, and sat with through endless band trips, and helped through endless crushes, seem like people I knew a long time ago. And never had that much in common with anyway except marching around in a really ridiculous hat.

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Reading Group Guide

1. How does Bird use humor to convey character? What about the characters who aren’t particularly funny?

2. On page 14, Cam observes a group of mothers with their young children, “They wanted what we all want: reassurance that they had made the right choices.” Does Cam believe she has chosen wisely? Does Aubrey agree with her? How do Aubrey’s own choices reflect upon Cam’s?

3. Discuss the way Bird uses time—setting Aubrey’s story in one period and Cam’s in another. How do the two timelines play off each other?

4. Cam believes that Tyler is the reason for the friction between her and Aubrey, but how does the secret that Audrey is keeping about Martin affect her rebellion against Cam?

5. “My mother hovered and clung more than any helicopter mom that was ever invented after her. But even she couldn’t control any of the most important events in my life.” (page 50) How does Cam’s distaste for her own mother’s parenting style affect her relationship with Aubrey? Why is Bobbi Mac so important, in contrast?

6. What do Aubrey’s and Cam’s notions of independence and individuality say about their decisions in life? Who seems more comfortable following her own path?

7. Discuss the notion of maternal sacrifice. How are Cam’s and Dori’s sacrifices interpreted by their daughters?

8. Why does Martin allow himself to be sucked into Next? Why doesn’t Cam do the same?

9. Throughout the novel, Cam and Aubrey make assumptions—about each other, about Tyler, about Martin. Why can’t they communicate more openly?  Why have they lost each other’s trust?

10. On page 225, Martin tells Cam, “For some of us, being right is so much sexier than sex.” What does he mean by this?

11. How does the revelation about Tyler’s upbringing change your perception of him? What do you think Cam’s response would be?

12. Martin tells Cam she is “a true rebel,” who always knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. (page 264) How does this differ from the way Aubrey sees her? From the way Cam sees herself?

13. Discuss the ending. How does Twyla’s newborn, Aubrey, help Cam to accept her own daughter?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 15 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    readers will enjoy this cautionary family drama

    Lactation consultant single mother Cam Lightsey earns a living by assisting moms with their first days of motherhood. Cam feels strongly her relationship with her seventeen year old daughter Aubrey is rock solid. However, the first erosion to the rock occurs when clarinetist high school senior Aubrey quits the school's marching band to spend time with her hero quarterback Tyler Moldenhauer. Tyler rescued Aubrey when she struggled with heatstroke.

    Two days before Aubrey leaves for college, she vanishes. Frantic Cam panics over the safety of her offspring. She also faces the truth that her dreams for her daughter were her dreams. Unbeknownst to Cam, Aubrey, seeking freedom to be herself, has contacted her biological father who had joined a cult fifteen years ago.

    Rotating viewpoint between mother and daughter, The Gap Year is an insightful tale as mom thinks how perfect her relationship with her teenage daughter is while the offspring thinks how caged she is. Both characters are fully developed as the reader obtains how each perceives their relationship. With a nod to the muses of Kahill Gibran's The Prophet as the parent is the bow that must free the teenage child-arrow, readers will enjoy this cautionary family drama.

    Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2011

    Buy a hardcopy so you can share it with the rest of your family.

    A great, contemporary story for moms whose daughters are in high school as well as for their daughters, because senior year is told from both points of view with a funny, cynical style. Everything rings so true.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2013

    more from this reviewer

     I had a hard time getting through this book. It was well-writte

     I had a hard time getting through this book. It was well-written, but I think it hit too close to home for me in some aspects. I could really identify with Cam in the fact that she feels out of touch with her teenage daughter. She has the same concerns and worries that I think we all have for our kids. In those respects, this story made me uncomfortable--only because I am feeling many of the same emotions regarding my own daughter. It didn't help matters that the story's most significant events took place on my daughter's and my birthdays! (Bird dated the pages of the novel told on a sort of timeline with flashbacks.)




         I did enjoy that the story was told from both perspectives--Cam's (mom) and Aubrey (daughter). Readers will have some insight as the story progresses, but Bird doesn't give much away until the end. You will be in suspense until the last page! Bird also does a good job at tapping into all of our parenting insecurities. Poor Cam is constantly second guessing every decision she has every made and how they now affect her daughter's life. I could totally relate to Cam in that aspect too! I also appreciated Cam's sense of humor. There were definitely some laugh out loud moments to make up for the pages I struggled with! Good balance, Sarah Bird! 




         While I struggled with this book at times, I did enjoy it overall. I could relate to the characters and I think I can take a lot away from the story from Aubrey's perspective. I need to remember that teenager's point of view when dealing with my own daughter. I would definitely recommend this book--especially for  those of you who have been blessed with teenaged daughters! Happy reading! 
        
    Reviewed by Joelle for Cocktails and Books

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2012

    Lacey's Home

    Lacey's Home. Soare bedroom.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    Pretty good but coulf Liked it

    This was a pretty good book but it could have been better. The story was intriguing and I liked the format but it took too long to grip me and the voice of the daughter started to annoy me after a while. Then just as it got really interesting it ended somewhat abruptly.

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  • Posted August 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Bird flies high with this one!

    Many books have been written about mother-daughter relationships but The Gap Year goes to the head of the class. Bird is very perceptive about the passages traveled as off-spring test their wings and she captures perfectly the feelings that emerge along the way before they fly the nest. Bird's wry sense of humor and sassy dialogue sets just the right tone as she segues between Cam, the mother, and Aubrey, the daughter. Martin, Cam's ex and Tyler, Aubrey's boyfriend, round out the cast of characters and the reader feels empathy for the love-hate relationships as they each explore and try to resolve multiple issues. And not to be forgotten is Dori, Cam's best friend, and Dori's daughter, Twyla, and what it takes to forgive. While this book is wildly entertaining, there are many important messages delivered. This is a winner! One of Bird's earlier novels, Yokota Officers Club is a favorite and one of the few books I've read more than once. The Gap Year falls in that category and I highly recommend it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2011

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    Posted September 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2011

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    Posted September 5, 2011

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    Posted August 16, 2011

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