When you read Packer, you’ll know you’re in the hands of a writer who knows what she’s doing. A marvelously absorbing novel.

THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE

A young doctor buys a piece of land in a place that will later be known as Silicon Valley, building a house that will shape his family for decades.

Packer (Swim Back to Me, 2011, etc.) is an expert at complicated relationships; she likes to show more than two sides to every story. Who's responsible for the fracturing of the Blair family? The obvious answer is Penny, a woman oppressed by domesticity, who retreats from her husband and four children to spend all her time in the shed—she calls it her studio—where she works on collages and mugs made of too-thick pottery, eventually even sleeping there. Or could her husband, Bill, a pediatrician with endless patience and empathy for kids, have pushed his wife away? Perhaps it was James, the youngest (and unplanned) child, a holy terror from the day he was born, who tipped his family over the edge. In beautifully precise prose, Packer tells the Blairs’ story, alternating chapters between the past, when the children were young, and the present, four years after their father’s death, when they each get a chance to tell their own stories in the first person. While James has bounced around the world, his siblings—Robert, a doctor; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; and Ryan, a teacher—all live near their childhood home, which James wants to sell. Emotions have never had so many shadings as in Packer’s fiction; she can tease apart every degree of ambivalence in her characters, multiplying that exponentially when everyone has different desires and they all worry about finding fulfillment while also caring for each other—except, perhaps, Penny. But though we rarely see Penny’s perspective on why she withdrew from her family, we can fill in the blanks; it’s the 1960s and ’70s, a time when women were searching for a larger role in the world. Packer seems to set Penny up as the villain, but even that view becomes complicated by the end.

When you read Packer, you’ll know you’re in the hands of a writer who knows what she’s doing. A marvelously absorbing novel.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1045-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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The emotions run high, the conversations run deep, and the relationships ebb and flow with grace.

REGRETTING YOU

When tragedy strikes, a mother and daughter forge a new life.

Morgan felt obligated to marry her high school sweetheart, Chris, when she got pregnant with their daughter, Clara. But she secretly got along much better with Chris’ thoughtful best friend, Jonah, who was dating her sister, Jenny. Now her life as a stay-at-home parent has left her feeling empty but not ungrateful for what she has. Jonah and Jenny eventually broke up, but years later they had a one-night stand and Jenny got pregnant with their son, Elijah. Now Jonah is back in town, engaged to Jenny, and working at the local high school as Clara’s teacher. Clara dreams of being an actress and has a crush on Miller, who plans to go to film school, but her father doesn't approve. It doesn’t help that Miller already has a jealous girlfriend who stalks him via text from college. But Clara and Morgan’s home life changes radically when Chris and Jenny are killed in an accident, revealing long-buried secrets and forcing Morgan to reevaluate the life she chose when early motherhood forced her hand. Feeling betrayed by the adults in her life, Clara marches forward, acting both responsible and rebellious as she navigates her teenage years without her father and her aunt, while Jonah and Morgan's relationship evolves in the wake of the accident. Front-loaded with drama, the story leaves plenty of room for the mother and daughter to unpack their feelings and decide what’s next.

The emotions run high, the conversations run deep, and the relationships ebb and flow with grace.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1642-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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This quirky, complex, and frustrating heroine will win hearts and challenge assumptions about family dysfunction and mental...

WITHOUT MERIT

With the help of unusual houseguests, a teenage girl who tries to rebel by airing her family’s dirty laundry cleans up her act instead.

To Merit Voss, the white picket fence around her house is the only thing normal about the family it contains. She lives in a converted church with her father, stepmother, and siblings, and although her parents have been divorced for years, her mother still lives in the basement, struggling with social anxiety. No one in her family is religious, so her brother Utah updates the church marquee every day with fun facts instead of Bible verses. Merit is less accomplished than her identical twin sister, Honor, so she likes to buy used trophies to celebrate her failures. But Honor seems to have a fetish for terminally ill boys, so it’s a surprise to Merit when Sagan, who is perfectly healthy, kisses Merit after mistaking her for her sister—and then reveals that he’s living in their house. Soon they have another houseguest, Luck, whose connection to the family makes Merit even more convinced she’s living in a madhouse. So why is everyone so angry at her? Merit has a love/hate relationship with her sister. She's conflicted by her feelings for Sagan, who leaves intriguing sketches (illustrated by Adams) around the house for her to decipher. She’s simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by Luck, who annoys her with his questions but is also her confidant. She can’t sit through dinner without starting a fight; she’s been skipping school for days; and when she decides to give her whole family the silent treatment, Sagan is the only one who notices. In fact, he and Luck are the only people in the house who recognize Merit’s quirks for what they really are—cries for help. And when Merit takes drastic measures to be heard, the fallout is both worse and much better than she feared. Hoover (It Ends With Us, 2016, etc.) does an excellent job of revealing the subtle differences between healthy teenage rebellion and clinical depression, and Merit’s aha moment is worthy of every trophy in her collection.

This quirky, complex, and frustrating heroine will win hearts and challenge assumptions about family dysfunction and mental illness in a life-affirming story that redefines what’s normal.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7062-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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