Book Review: The Rest of Her Life, by Laura Moriarty

The Rest of Her Life was not supposed to be next in my review pile. I received a copy – thanks to Book Club Girl! – in preparation for the live chat with author Laura Moriarty on Wednesday, Dec 17th (7pm EST on Blog Talk Radio). I came in from the mailbox, sat down for a minute to look through the first chapter, and could not even consider another book until I was finished with it.

The Rest of Her Life is about a small family in a small town, dealing with a huge tragedy. Kara – a model student, involved in her community, a great friend – is about to graduate from high school when, as the result of just a few seconds of poor judgment, she accidentally hits and kills another teenage girl. The novel actually centers around Kara’s mother, Leigh, and her struggle to make things right for her daughter and the lives of everyone involved.

Moriarty masterfully writes this novel in tight, concentric circles around the history of mothers and daughters in this family. Throughout the novel, we are privy to Leigh’s memories of life with her own mother. Being moved from place to place, shown little affection, and eventually left on her own at 16, Leigh determines that she will be a better mother than she ever had. She is confounded by her mother’s declaration, “I gave you everything I ever wanted.” Her only response: “Then you must not have wanted very much.” Considering Leigh’s mother came from a home with even less love and stability, perhaps her desires were quite simple. But Leigh remains unsympathetic and is determined to garner the loyalty and affection of her only daughter. She is surprised and disappointed, though, when Kara becomes a cold and distant teen, and the history of mother/daughter dysfunction begins to repeat itself.

After Kara’s accident, though, Leigh is desperate to reach out to her daughter. She flails in the current of tension surrounding their relationship, and for a while seems to send her best efforts for comfort elsewhere (specifically in trying to console the mother of the dead girl). It is only through some brutal honesty from her friend, her sister, and her husband that Leigh realizes her own self-absorption has kept her from seeing what Kara needs from her as a mother.

Leigh is a flawed, sometimes unsympathetic character who seems almost condemned from the start. But it is her willingness to open her eyes, to finally SEE Kara as herself, to HEAR what she has to say, that ultimately redeems her. I identified so strongly with Leigh and her struggles with her teenage daughter. I understood the irony of declaring “You don’t even know what you have!” when the whole intention as a mother is to keep them from knowing how else it could be. It is the same irony we feel when we give our children everything we never had, and then subconsciously resent them for it.

Moriarty doesn’t trivialize the death of the other teenage girl, but it definitely is not the driving force of this novel. Instead, the storyline weaves in and out of the greater drama of a family still finding and fitting into their roles, and still striving to love each other in the best and the deepest ways possible.

Thanks again to Book Club Girl (and congrats on the new baby!) for this review copy.

Book details:

Publisher: Hyperion
Format: Paperback Book
Publish Date: 06/10/08
Pages: 352