The novel begins with a deceptively hubristic prologue in which our narrator, 24-year-old Ellen Gulden, describes what it's like to be in jail charged with killing her dying mother. Then we get the real story, every painful, ironic bit of it. Fresh out of Harvard and eager to prove herself as a journalist, Ellen is completely unprepared for her rather elusive and dismissive father's request that she move back home and nurse her mother, who, at age 46, has suddenly become terribly ill. Ellen has always been a daddy's girl, dismissing her homespun mother as an anachronism. Now, as she enters her mother's world just as her mother is about to exit it, everything she's ever assumed about her family and, indeed, life itself is challenged.
It isn't easy reading about how cancer ravages Ellen's once radiant and ever-nurturing mother, but it is eminently satisfying to witness Ellen's transformation from an often glib, emotionally suppressed overachiever into a woman who begins to fathom the meaning of love. Quindlen also gets in some good jabs at the media for its feverish appetite for easy scandal and its irrelevance to the truth manifest in genuine tragedies. -- Booklist