Monday, July 11, 2016

Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer

Hardcover352 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

What They Say......When Char Hawthorn's husband dies unexpectedly, she is left questioning everything she once knew to be true: from the cozy small town life they built together to her relationship with her stepdaughter, who is suddenly not bound to Char in any real way. Untethered explores what bonds truly form a family and how, sometimes, love knows no bounds. 

Char Hawthorn, college professor, wife and stepmother to a spirited fifteen-year-old daughter, loves her family and the joyful rhythms of work and parenting. But when her husband dies in a car accident, the “step” in Char’s title suddenly matters a great deal. In the eyes of the law, all rights to daughter Allie belong to Lindy, Allie’s self-absorbed biological mother, who wants the girl to move to her home in California.

While Allie begins to struggle in school and tensions mount between her and Char, Allie’s connection to young Morgan, a ten-year-old-girl she tutors, seems to keep her grounded. But then Morgan, who was adopted out of foster care, suddenly disappears, and Char is left to wonder about a possible future without Allie and what to do about Morgan, a child caught up in a terrible crack in the system.

What I Say....This was an interesting book and it made me think, but not for the reasons I expected. 

Char is a marshmallow.  Her step-daughter calls her gutless and I would have to agree with her.  In Char's mind, she should behave as an overly gracious hostess to her stepdaughter, Allie, even after her husband dies and she's left raising Allie on her own while her mother continues her life and business in California.

So if Allie's mom is rude to her at her own husband's funeral, Char just takes it and tells herself it's the way to get what she wants.

Allie tutors a little girl, Morgan, who has been adopted by a highly regarded local family.  One day, Char sees Morgan covered in bruises and her mother tells her that Morgan self harms.   She even offers Char her therapists phone number so she can verify this information, but of course Char wouldn't dream of following through on calling the therapist.  That would be rude.

Things continue to to decline for this family, and when Char sees Morgan's mom with a startlingly declining personal appearance and a distinct change in parenting style, it gives her a moment of pause, but she just goes on, not asking any further questions or taking any action.....such as calling the therapist.

Allie is also changing, running with a fast group of kids, not interacting, and being outright rude to Char.  And what does Char do?  Tells herself that she can't lay down any rules or be firm with Allie, even when she's lied to.  Char is afraid to rock the boat because no one has made any concrete plans for Allie to rejoin her mother in California, so she is living her life in limbo.  I seriously wanted to shake her!  The human doormat!

Allie runs away with Morgan, in a righteous but misguided effort to help her.  I won't give any spoilers but while the reason was valid, there was another way to handle it rather than having a 15 year old take a young girl, steal her father's convertible, and start driving on the freeways to Florida.

And does Char do anything appropriate?  Like say, call the police to get them off the highway?  No, indeed, she doesn't want to make Allie mad, because then she might not call her anymore.  She initially doesn't tell Allie's mother because she might take action.  Ugh.  At this point, I was getting really mad  because Char's innate wimpiness was putting two children in danger. 

Allie's mom figures out what is going on, and although she says she won't call the police, she does and they are quickly located and brought safely to the police station to wait for their parents.  And Char's reaction?  That Lindy promised not to call the police, who knows what charges could be brought?  I know that I was meant to not like Lindy, but jaysus, at this point, she was acting more like a parent than Char ever did.  You do what you have to do to keep your child safe, not happy.

Then for some reason, Char thinks she can appear submissive to Lindy and that Allie will still be allowed to live with her.  Dumb bunny.  Of course, Lindy takes her back to California and keeps her there until she graduates high school.  Because obviously Char is not capable of parenting responsibly.   If she would have left Allie with Char, I would have written Lindy off, but she was obviously understood responsibility more than Char did.

So then Char ends up keeping Morgan.  So she gets to be a parent after all, to an emotionally troubled child due to the practice of adoption "rehoming".   Where you apparently rehome children like dogs.

Reading my review, it may seem like I didn't like the book - ummm, NO!  I loved it - I just reacted to it as someone who has parented three teens and knows that being their friend doesn't usually work - I'm not here to make them happy, I'm here to make safe, productive adults.  Being their friend as they become adults is the reward for being the bad guy though the teen years.

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