Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Product Description: Named one of the Best Summer Reads of 2011 by Good Housekeeping, Town & Country andBookReporter, THE GAP YEAR is a witty and wise novel about the empty nest, a pitch perfect portrayal of a mother and daughter on the verge of a seismic change.
Cam has raised her daughter Aubrey alone ever since her ex left to join a cult. But now the bond between mother and daughter seems to have disappeared. While Cam is frantic to see Aubrey, a straight-A student, at the perfect college, on a path that Cam is sure will provide her daughter success and happiness, Aubrey suddenly shows no interest in her mother’s plans. Even the promise of an exciting gap year saving baby seals or bringing clean water to remote villages hasn’t tempted her. She prefers pursuing a life with her wrong-side-of-the-tracks football-hero boyfriend and her own secret hopes.

Both mourn the gap that has grown between them, but Cam and Aubrey seem locked in a fight without a winner. Can they both learn how to hold onto dreams . . . and when to let go to grasp something better? Sarah Bird’s trademark laugh-out-loud humor joins with the tears that accompany love in a combination that reveals the fragile yet tough bonds of mother and daughter.

My thoughts: The Gap Year was an interesting read and addressed some of the obstacles an empty nester, in particular, a single mother sending her one and only daughter off into the wide world of college. The book is written in alternating POV between mother and daughter. Not only is the writing style and attitude different, but so is the font which is wonderful for the visual reader.

The book addresses a common practice of taking a year off of school before starting college which I had two problems with: a) that's not really what it is about but that is the way Cam, the mother, chooses to frame it and b) the school counselor in me knows the statistics of students who take a year off before starting college. 80% do not start college after that one year. Obviously, I don't advocate a gap year for any student unless there are special circumstances like service for a church or organization which seems to clash directly with Cam's viewpoint and opinion.

Although Cam is not opposed to a gap year and even imagines Aubrey serving in a third world country, her point of view is often tainted towards "the establishment" of any kind, including organized religion. It starts out small with tiny jabs at certain churches then expands to a thinly veiled description of Christian Science. 16 years ago Cam's husband, Martin, sold his soul to join a cult called Next. He chose the church over his family and didn't look back. Until he reaches out to get to know Aubrey but he can not reveal this connection to this Next church or bad things will happen to a trust account.

Admittedly, I know very little about Christian Science and what I do know I disagree with on many levels. I won't get into the issues of doctrinal discussion or cult-like indoctrination because I don't know the whole picture. Therefore, I am unqualified to defend or attack the church/cult or whatever it may be. I realize it is an integral part of the story as the indoctrination of Martin is the catalyst for him to leave what matters most to pursue truth and enlightenment. It seemed that the attitude for organized religion and, in particular, smaller religions were referred to in a derisive manner. I understand the concept of life crapping all over you and feeling angry at the God I had been taught to love and questioning the tenets of the church I had grown up in. On the other hand, I also have a deep respect for any religion or otherwise organization that provides understanding to a person and puts pieces of their lives into a more manageable and understandable form. Tom Cruise and his public attack on Brooke Shields choice to take medication for her postpartum depression? In my mind, he's a complete idiot who could use some empathy training. That does not negate the good others have found in the same organization.

I know. Big diatribe but it bothered me enough to include it in my review.

Lest the above diatribe is distracting to you, let me assure you that the author is a brilliant writer. There were nuggets of true wisdom interspersed throughout the book that left me in a profound stupor and a highlighter in my hand. The Gap Year is much more about the generational gap and the gap in the roles of mothers and daughters. Mothers will contrive a reality to fit their dreams for their daughters. They might even try to live vicariously through their own children. there are extreme examples which were a little unbelievable like the boyfriend being a mega superstar football player who came out of a heinous childhood which he eventually reveals. The juxtaposition is a little too extreme. Hippie Mama who is forced to grow up but secretly wants to rock out to ABBA and Bruce Springsteen and probably even Leif Garrett and Danny Bonaducci. She creates a contrived future for her daughter and tries to live vicariously through her simple force of nature. I can relate to that. Not really living vicariously because I had a great few years at college but more involved in the choices my daughters are going to make. But ultimately, they will still do what they want to do.

So it's a mixed review. It is a well written book scattered with words of wisdom but also includes a story that seemed a little weak and characters I never really liked very much. It addresses issues that are important but I've read other books that I felt hit more on the mark. It's a good book but I didn't love it.

*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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