Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough [NOOK Book]


Joanie's ex-husband is having a baby with his new girlfriend. Joanie won't be having more babies, since she's decided never to have sex again.

But she still has her teenaged daughter Caroline to care for. And thanks to the recession, her elderly mother Ivy as well. Her daughter can't seem to exist without texting, and her mother brags about "goggling,"-while Joanie, back in...
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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough

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Joanie's ex-husband is having a baby with his new girlfriend. Joanie won't be having more babies, since she's decided never to have sex again.

But she still has her teenaged daughter Caroline to care for. And thanks to the recession, her elderly mother Ivy as well. Her daughter can't seem to exist without texting, and her mother brags about "goggling,"-while Joanie, back in the workforce, is still trying to figure out her office computer. And how to fend off the advances of her coworker Bruce.

Joanie, Caroline, and Ivy are stuck under the same roof, and it isn't easy. But sometimes they surprise each other-and themselves. And through their differences they learn that it is possible to undo the mistakes of the past.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A recession-battered baby boomer divorcée struggles to keep it together after her mother moves in and her ex knocks up his much younger girlfriend in Pennebaker's sharp hen lit debut (after several YA novels). After the recession wipes out her savings, widowed Ivy moves in with daughter Joanie, who is recently divorced. Joanie's life is riddled with stress: she's saddled with making a living at a job she fears she can't do; worries that she'll never get past her divorce; and is constantly at odds with her cantankerous mother and her teenage daughter, Caroline. Spoiled, awkward Caroline lashes out at her one friend as often as she does her mother, and she's disgusted that her father is planning to marry a woman half his age after getting her pregnant, though Caroline does feel an unlikely kinship with her stepmother-to-be. There's a rare honesty in Pennebaker's work that allows for both empathy and ample schadenfreude as the women examine themselves and each other, and their inner lives have a winning warts-and-all air of authenticity. Pennebaker's effort delivers right through to its hopeful but realistic conclusion. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Joanie Pilcher's life is filled with women from hell. Her 15-year-old daughter, Caroline, best described by a variety of S words like sulky, stubborn, and spiteful, won't look up from her cell phone. Her mother, Ivy, who went broke and moved in when the economy tanked, divides her time between criticizing her daughter and shoplifting from the better department stores in Austin, TX. Toss in hysterical Zoe, Joanie's deranged boss, and vapid B.J., the childlike, pregnant fiancée of Joanie's ex-husband, and what results is a free-for-all of female freakiness. Pennebaker, who is best known for her young adult fiction, makes the jump to the adult market in prose that is bold, funny, and irreverent, albeit a bit choppy. VERDICT The collision of three generations of dysfunctional women under one roof provides rich opportunities to explore serious issues such as depression, divorce, and teen drug use, but the author's laugh-at-life approach trivializes these matters. Still, Pennebaker's wit and themes of sisterly solidarity and growth are likely to resonate with fans of humorous women's authors like Rebecca Wells, Nancy Thayer, and Jennifer Weiner.—Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY
Kirkus Reviews

Pennebaker's first novel attempts to join the recession-hit chic-lit mini-boomlet with her comedy about an Austin, Texas, divorcée struggling to live under one roof with her adolescent daughter and aging mother.

About to turn 50, Joanie has still not fully adjusted to her divorce two years earlier from lawyer Richard. In fact, she's sworn off sex all together. Given that this is supposedly a book about hard times, Joanie's financial situation, even how much Richard is paying in child support, remains vague. After having unbelievably little trouble getting an ad-agency job after years as a stay-at-home mom, she evinces only disdain for the actual work, not to mention her much younger colleagues, and only limited concern over job security. Meanwhile, her personal life is one irritation after another. Her 15-year-old daughter Caroline has turned typically adolescent: impatient, hostile, secretive and mildly rebellious. Not so much unpopular as invisible to her high-school peers, Caroline experiments with cigarettes, pot and wildly dyed hair but remains basically a good girl. Joanie's aging mother Ivy, who has had to leave her West Texas home and move in with Joanie for financial reasons, is outspoken in disparaging both daughter and granddaughter, and although she's supposed to be a reactionary shrew, her criticism seems pretty accurate. Her intolerance covers aching loneliness, and the novel's best scene occurs when Caroline and her only friend bake pot brownies that Ivy devours àla mode. As Ivy's health fails, Joanie's brother, Ivy's blatant favorite, doesn't visit or lift a finger to help. Richard announces that his much younger girlfriend is expecting a baby and then is out of town on business the rest of the novel. Pennebaker's male characters are so undeveloped that even in their villainy they seem irrelevant. The novel's one half-decent guy, Joanie's co-worker, becomes a lukewarm love interest at best. Eventually, of course, female camaraderie is achieved among the three generations.

Neither funny nor insightful enough to rise about the crowd of similar plots.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101478486
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/4/2011
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • File size: 233 KB

Meet the Author

Ruth Pennebaker is a columnist with The Texas Observer and a commentator for KUT public radio in Austin, Texas.

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Reading Group Guide

Joanie's ex-husband is having a baby with his new girlfriend. Joanie won't be having more babies, since she's decided never to have sex again.

But she still has her teenaged daughter Caroline to care for. And thanks to the recession, her elderly mother Ivy as well. Her daughter can't seem to exist without texting, and her mother brags about "goggling,"—while Joanie, back in the workforce, is still trying to figure out her office computer. And how to fend off the advances of her coworker Bruce.

Joanie, Caroline, and Ivy are stuck under the same roof, and it isn't easy. But sometimes they surprise each other—and themselves. And through their differences they learn that it is possible to undo the mistakes of the past.


  • Why did Joanie feel the need to tell Caroline that Richard and B.J. are expecting a baby instead of letting Richard tell his daughter himself? How did Richard react to the news that Joanie told Caroline before he had a chance to and was his reaction justified?
  • Ivy knows it's wrong to have a favorite child, yet she admits to herself that David is her favorite, despite the fact that Joanie is the one who took her in. What does this say about Ivy? What reasons does she give for considering David her favorite even though she barely talks to him and her daughter is the one who is caring for her in her old age?
  • When Nadine and Joanie are talking about men and their relationships with their mothers, Joanie recalls that when she first started dating Richard, he bought his mom a particularly large bouquet for Mother's Day. She learned that it was because Richard's father had just left his mother for a more exciting life and Joanie reflects on how Richard turned into his father. How does this story offer insight into their relationship? Was Richard's family situation foreshowing and if so, why was it still so shocking to Joanie that Richard left her for a more exciting life?
  • What was Ivy feeling when the woman in the clothing store made rude comments to her? In what ways did this perpetuate Ivy's feelings of uselessness, of irrelevance? Is this an accurate depiction of how we treat older women in society?
  • When Joanie blows up at Ivy during dinner, they are each handling the argument very differently. How is this a clarifying moment of how different generations handle hard situations?
  • What were the reasons for Ivy befriending Lupe? Was it completely out of loneliness or was she trying to reach out beyond her comfort zone and find out more about a person who is so different from her (Hispanic, a working mother, etc.)? Why did she care so much about Lupe and why was she so devastated by her sudden departure?
  • How did Joanie's reaction to Caroline and Sondra dying their hair prove that she relates to Caroline more than Caroline thinks? How does it show she's in touch with her daughter and why was Joanie herself surprised at her own reaction?
  • Do you think that Caroline and Sondra's rebellious activity—smoking cigarettes and marijuana and dying their hair—is indicative of dangerous behavior? Or are they just being rebellious? Do you feel they will eventually get over this phase once they get more comfortable with themselves or are they heading down a bad path?
  • Are all the reasons Joanie gives for not getting back out there and dating again after the divorce really just excuses? Is her reluctance really just because she's afraid, reluctant to try something new or do you believe that she is still healing and needs to take this time to herself?
  • Ivy starts acting out in strange ways. She lies to the church receptionist about Myra and Francine hating flowers, she shoplifts and she gets thrown out of the diner. What is the reason for this behavior? Why is she suddenly doing things she normally wouldn't do?
  • What is going through Ivy's mind when she breaks down in the doctor's office? She hasn't cried like that in years, maybe even ever. What was it about being in that situation and having the doctor act her so tender towards her that made her break down?
  • When B.J. called Caroline's house and needed her help, was it surprising how much Caroline cared? She even interrupted her mom's 50th birthday celebration to help her help B.J. Why does Caroline care so much? Why is she suddenly so concerned for B.J.'s well-being and whether or not she is scared or lonely?
  • After Caroline realizes that Henry is just interested in her because she is smart and will help him in school, she isn't sad or crushed. In fact, she realizes that she needs to change and looks forward to it. How does this show incredible insight for a 15 year-old girl?
  • At the end of the book, do you feel that all three women are on their way to being ok? Are they all in a better place emotionally than they were at the beginning of the book? What incidents or events happened to make you feel one way or another?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2014

    An enjoyable read

    I ceetainly could relate, as will most women will to this story of three generations if women living togerher. The autor does an excellent job of writing in each person's voice and bringing it all together.

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  • Posted August 21, 2011

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    What a juicy hormone packed book!

    My Take on the Book: What a juicy hormone packed book! Put three women in one home, no man to buffer, and you get hormones of all sorts of levels flying all the time. From laughing, fighting, ignoring, crying, yelling and on and on! Half way into the book, I knew that I couldn't put the book down because I really needed to see where the author was taking these 3 generations.

    I was skeptical that the ending would turn out for the good. I was guessing someone was going to die, either by accident or on purpose. I was creating the ending in my head, which sadly I do all the time when I read. I thought that a death would truly get the women that were left behind on the same hormone level for awhile.

    Well I'm not going to tell you if someone died because that would giveaway entirely too much of this work of fiction! I will tell you that if you don't read this book you will miss out on a witty, fun-filled multi-generational book that will take you to a new level on understanding of yourself and the other women that you live with or might have to live with in the future!

    I recommend this book for older YA readers all the way to those who are grandmothers! This little gem would make a great gift from any woman to another woman! This book brings to light the relationships between mother and daughter, no matter your age, you will be able to related to it and identify your own strength and weaknesses in those relationships. I don't have a mother but I am a mother to 3 daughters (1 tween and 2 teens). The book stimulated me to think about our current relationship and what is to come in the future.

    If you are in a book club, this would be a great book for that, too! I've been contemplating starting an online book club with some of my like-minded friends and this book would really be a great one to start it off. I'm a HUGE fan of books that include a readers guide, and of course, this one does!

    One last note on this book. I love the illustration on the cover. It is of 3 birds on a wire. Once I read the book, it all made sense and gave me a huge chuckle!

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  • Posted June 9, 2011

    Great Characters, Great Story

    Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker takes a unique perspective on a family of three generations living together. Joanie, the woman in the middle generation and the bread-winner, is dealing with her ex-husband who's having a baby with his girlfriend, her mother who's moved in with her for financial reasons, her daughter who's experiencing her horrible teen years, and a co-worker who's putting the moves on her.

    The tale is often funny, sometimes rather heart-breaking, and will make most of us glad we're not Joanie. But don't think Ivy, the grandmother, or Caroline, the daughter, are out to get Joanie. They're just living their lives, trying to survive like everyone else. Caroline is trying to be something other than the invisible girl at school. Ivy wants to be seen, too, as a whole person, not an old person having to live with her daughter. Pennebaker has even drawn the ex-husband's girlfriend as a three-dimensional character with her own problems and fears.

    Each character is well-drawn and believable. I think it doesn't matter whether you're young, older, or the generation in-between, you would like the book and identify with the characters. (Although if you buy it for your daughter, I recommend you read it first since it does have some language and scenes you'd want to check out.) But no matter which generation you identify with, you'll find yourself wondering if they can ever come together. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough is character driven and the three main characters are up to the drive through the hills and valleys of life and family.

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  • Posted June 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Entertaining Look At Life's Transistions

    Joanie may be having a nervous breakdown. She deserves a nervous breakdown. About to turn fifty, everything has changed. Her husband, Richard, has moved out, saying he doesn't want any commitments, and then instantly shows up with a new girlfriend barely out of her teens. And by the way, said girlfriend is pregnant and wants to get married.

    Joanie has gotten a job in an ad agency; she managed to land it after three weeks of looking and years at home. BUT, she works with an office full of Gen X and Gen Y coworkers who look at her as if it is a miracle she manages to make it out of her creaky rocking chair each day. She doesn't like the job, but needs it.

    Her mom, Ivy, has moved in due to the recession and losing her life savings. Far from being a help, she still feels it is her job to criticize every move Joanie makes, and even insists on calling her Roxanne, a name Joanie ditched as soon as she possibly could. Ivy spends hours on the Internet and has a fresh disaster to inform Joanie about every day.

    Then there is Caroline. Caroline, a typical fifteen year old, which means she ignores Joanie when she can and treats her to sullenness and sarcasm when she can't. Joanie sees underneath the angst to the girl trying to learn how to become a woman and crushed by her father's betrayals.

    Ruth Pennebaker lovingly narrates the life of many middle-aged women. Despite the woes, readers will laugh out loud at her portrayals, especially mothers of teenage daughters. The book is optimistic and entertaining and recommended for all readers interested in how to manage life transitions.

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  • Posted April 3, 2011

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    Bridget's Review

    While reading Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, I couldn't help but think about my own experiences with the important women in my life. Whenever I am going through something rough, I try to concentrate on how it will benefit me in the future. I was immediately captured and was unable to put this book down. I highly recommend it, especially for those of you going through a rough patch.

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I can see this happening in real life!

    Imagine due to the recession in order to make ends meet, you, your mom and your daughter all live together under one roof. You all have your own ways of doing things from preparing dinner, to how you live your life, to dating and relationships.

    Now you have the ingredients to the perfect blend of a new novel Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker.

    We are introduced to Joanie, the middle-aged mom who suddenly finds herself living with her daughter Caroline when her husband up and leaves her for something quite a bit younger than her. In the process of coping with her divorce, she learns to lean on her daughter in many ways. However, Caroline isn't ready to deal with taking care of her mother. She hasn't had time to process the reasons why her father just left their family. Now with her mother falling apart, she has to put her feelings on the back burner to help her mom.

    Now without a place to stay, Joanie and Caroline decide to move in with Ivy, Joanie's aging mother, who is very set in her ways and beliefs in how everyone should be while living under her roof. She is outspoken and doesn't hold back in expressing her thoughts to Joanie or Caroline.

    What transpires in the context of this novel, is just how they all come to understand one another and work towards uniting under the same roof and come to love the uniqueness that makes each of them special.

    I received this book compliments of TLC Book Tours for my honest review and can honestly say, I loved it. It's down to earth and relevant for this time in most of our lives where so many of us are forced to "life boat" together under the same roof just to survive. The outcome is amazing when you can see it from the other side of the situation in watching it all unfold. I would rate this book 5 out of 5 stars. The only word of caution I would have for the reader is there is some profanity but I think it makes the reader understand the stress each of these women must deal with, and therefore does not take away from the storyline.

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  • Posted December 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A winner

    Fifty two year Richard calls his forty-nine ex wife Joanie to inform her that his live in lover twenty-nine years old BJ is pregnant. She calls him an a*s*le and hangs up while her mom Ivy, who lives with her, hears her. Joanie believes their fifteen year old daughter Caroline who lives with her also hates her. She tells moody Caroline who wishes someone would listen to her and stop assuming how she feels. Joanie is unhappy at home and unhappy at work as 24/7 she believes Sartre is right.

    Caroline has one friend Sondra. She likes Henry, but with no breasts she has no chance except helping him with his Spanish homework. Her parents' drive her crazy as each wants to have her validate they are the better parent.

    Ivy misses her favorite child David who lives in New York with his wife and kids; grandchildren she never sees. She asks Caroline if she prays, but her granddaughter ignores her. Ivy walks to a chic store, which treats her poorly so she steals a scarf.

    Joanie drives Caroline to Richard's house. Ivy asks her daughter why she divorced Richard. Joanie says he left. Richard and BJ try to be nice to Caroline, but it is contrived and the teen finally says BJ should consider an abortion. BJ is hurt and Richard angry.

    The four prime females are fully developed while the males feel emaciated. Though too long the insightful story line provides a realistic character study of four Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough asking themselves what they did to deserve this life.

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted April 4, 2011

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    Posted November 11, 2010

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    Posted October 31, 2010

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