The Tylers have a perfect life - beautiful home, established careers, two sweet and talented daughters. Their eldest, Leah, an exceptional soccer player, is on track for a prestigious scholarship. Their youngest, Justine, more responsible than seems possible for her 12 years, has a brilliant mind. Their blissfully peaceful life ends when Leah meets Todd, a former roadie for a rock band. As Leah's parents fight to save their daughter from a world of drugs, sex, and wild parties, their divided approach drives their daughter out of their home and a wedge into their marriage. Meanwhile, Justine observes her sister's rebellion from the shadows of their fragmented family questioning whether anyone loves her and if God even knows she exists. Can this family survive in Leah's wake? What happens when love just isn't enough?
The author asked me to read and review this novel and I'm very glad that she did. It is heartbreaking and infuriating, there's not one character I really like, it scared me at times and reminded me of things I'd much rather not think about. It also gripped me, made me care about everyone there, repeatedly took me on a terrifying ride in a few simple words, and when it was over left me sad and hopeful for the Tyler family all at the same time.
The author very skillfully evoked alternately the warmth of happy moments and the desperation of moments when everything seemed to be unraveling faster and faster. I admired her ability to avoid making the characters caricatures of the problems that ruled their lives, instead she made them flesh-and-blood real and I sympathized with them every step of the way. The gradual revelations of facts about this family made for a reading experience that felt very natural without the sensation of an information dump and I appreciated not being given a tour or a detailed description of characters immediately after opening the book. Instead I got a feel for what kind of people they were, their family dynamic, and saw the beginning of what would become the downward spiral for Leah and the other Tylers. I appreciated the very distinctive voices of the conflicted Leah who knows what the right thing is but can't seem to do it, the intelligent and responsible yet insecure Justine who only wants her big sister's approval and ends up growing up much too fast, the volatile dad plagued by his own feelings of inadequacy, and a mom who helps others to make the best out of their lives and yet can't help herself and her own family.
The things that happened kept the plot moving and benefited the story, and at the same time were very realistic. I often wondered how the author came up with it all and yet didn't go overboard. There was a nice balance between reflection and action and alternating points of view allowed for fuller character development and all the good guys got a voice while at the same time allowing the troublemakers to not fade into shadows.
I mentioned that I didn't really like any of the characters and that is true. They were all flawed, in one way or another, and seemed to be filled with regrets and delusions. When it came to the parents I kept remembering that old proverb, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". When it came to Leah I kept remembering myself when I thought I was so grown up and independent and in fact was beginning to find my way into trouble. This was the main factor that made this book so scary for me, in a way I saw what could have happened to me or someone else in my life then.
This is not an easy book to read but it is so well-done I would recommend it to anyone without reservation.