by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Set in Hawaii, this novel is a nuanced portrait of a family in distress. There’s Matt, the father who long ago checked out on his family. He’s forced to start parenting again when an accident puts his wife Joanie in a coma. He is left to reconnect with his two daughters, the troubled teen Alex, and 10-year-old Scotty who is growing up too fast, as they come to terms with Joanie’s situation.
Along the way he discovers Joanie might have been having an affair and quickly his grief becomes twisted with bitterness and confusion. He begins to question the decisions he has made over the past few years. Like most families, they are dysfunctional, yet they truly love each other.
The character of Joni is fascinating because we see her only through memories and her husband and daughter’s points of view. We never hear why she made the decisions she did, which doesn’t take anything away from the story, but it leaves us feeling as frustrated as Matt is.
This was one of the rare cases when I saw the movie first, but I’m still glad I went back and read the book. The movie version is excellent, but the book adds even more depth because we can hear Matt’s internal monologue and struggle as he tries to reconnect with his daughters and come to terms with his relationship with his wife.
BOTTOM LINE: I was surprised by how much I loved this book. Even though the two teenage daughters were annoying at times, it was necessary for the dynamic of the story. It was a great study in grief and love and all the confusing emotions in between.
“That's how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can't experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too.”
“Get used to it. She'll be there for the rest of your life. She'll be there on birthdays, at Christmastime, when you get your period, when you graduate, have sex, when you marry, have children, when you die. She'll be there and she won't be there.”