Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

ISBN: 978-0-3075-9279-8

Publisher: Knopf

Source: Library

Summary: From the widely praised author of The Yokota Officers Club and The Flamenco Academy, a novel as hilarious as it is heartbreaking about a single mom and her seventeen-year-old daughter learning how to let go in that precarious moment before college empties the nest. 

In The Gap Year, told with perfect pitch from both points of view, we meet Cam Lightsey, lactation consultant extraordinaire, a divorcée still secretly carrying a torch for the ex who dumped her, a suburban misfit who’s given up her rebel dreams so her only child can get a good education.

We also learn the secrets of Aubrey Lightsey, tired of being the dutiful, grade-grubbing band geek, ready to explode from wanting her “real” life to begin, trying to figure out love with boys weaned on Internet porn.

When Aubrey meets Tyler Moldenhauer, football idol–sex god with a dangerous past, the fuse is lit. Late-bloomer Aubrey metastasizes into Cam’s worst silent, sullen teen nightmare, a girl with zero interest in college. Worse, on the sly Aubrey’s in touch with her father, who left when she was two to join a celebrity-ridden nutball cult.

As the novel unfolds—with humor, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and penetrating insights about love in the twenty-first century—the dreams of daughter, mother, and father chart an inevitable, but perhaps not fatal, collision . . .

The Gap Year was another find on the new young adult shelf in my local library. I think I read the description and became intrigued, though when I started reading the book I couldn't remember for the life of me what it was supposed to be about. Upon re-reading the description, I didn't recall anything except that there was a mother and daughter involved. The points of view are split between this mother and her daughter. Being as one of the most common threads in young adult literature is the lack of parental guidance and influence, I was surprised and intrigued by a book where the mother plays such a prominent narrative role.
The Gap Year alternates between Cam Lightsey in the present year (2010, in this case) and  her daughter Aubrey, who explains the the events in 2009 that led up to Cam's present. Cam is trying her best to see her daughter's future through to the first day of college, where everything will snap into place and Aubrey will get away from the influence of football player Tyler. Cam spends part of her narration blaming herself for Aubrey's current state of distance, mostly due to events like making fun of a marching band hat. Back in the 2009 chapters, Aubrey explains how she began talking to her estranged cult membership toting father and became involved with Tyler in the first place.
The story was very well written, Bird pulling off the distinctive voices of mother and daughter with great success. Cam is a mother who is clearly very invested in her daughter's life and distraught that she is no longer privy to watching Aubrey become her own person. Her narration demonstrated how lost she was without her daughter, especially since as a single mother she put Aubrey before herself for so long. Aubrey's voice was that of a teenager very jaded with her current situation, ready to begin her own life rather than live the one that everyone thinks she wants.
While this story had its moments of humor, on the whole I actually found it a little depressing. There was a bit too much real life for me; I generally prefer my depressing books to come in the form of paranormal or issue-based fiction. The loneliness of Cam's character was very well-written and subtle, but just too real-life depressing for me (this whole dislike of real life depression thing is also the reason I wasn't a fan of Blue Valentine).
Despite the rather depressing nature of the earlier parts of the book, I found the end to be very positive, with the everyone's roles in everyone else's life shifting according to the changes in Aubrey's future.
All and all, I thought this would actually work better as an adult book than a young adult book. It just didn't have the same vibe young adult books have. However, it was very well-written and had vibrant, memorable characters.

Rating: 3 - fair. (didn't really keep me reading quickly)

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