BOOK OF THE DAY

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You Were Always Mine
By Nicole Baart
Atria Books
$28.00
ISBN 978-1982108113
Publication Date: October 16, 2018

You Were Always Mine

Review by Mandy Dugan

Currently separated from her husband, Jessica Chamberlain is barely holding things together for herself and her two boys. 13-year old Max has been uncharacteristically acting out, an agreement to clean up his graffiti on the middle school wall hanging over his head. Gabe, sunny and six, greets his mother with a smile every day but struggles to deal with loud noises and navigate friendships. Although we see her as a teacher, a daughter, and a friend as well, Jessica sees herself first and foremost as a mother, and the idea that she might be failing at that haunts her from the very beginning of this story.

When her estranged husband, Evan, turns up inexplicably dead from an apparent shooting accident, Jessica’s nerve slips further, and the foundations of her carefully constructed life seem to fall apart. Baart artfully weaves in recollections of the Chamberlains life together as Jessica grieves. And though Jessica initially attempts to, like the duck, keep paddling frantically under the surface while maintaining a serene appearance, the weight of circumstances and her grief is simply too much, and the careful scaffolding she has constructed to support her fragile life begins to crack and fall down. 

Amazingly, into the rubble slip moments of grace. Jessica learns that she can confront things she could never look at straight on, but only glance at out of the corner of her eyes: her suspicions of her husband’s infidelity, the way her relationship with her father has changed since her mother died, and most devastatingly for Jessica, the identity of Gabe’s birth mother and an understanding of his need for connection to her. Gabe’s mother lies at the heart of the mystery of Evan’s death, and what he was doing in the dark and cold three hours from home on the night he died. But Jessica has never been able to even acknowledge her existence. 

Jessica’s struggle to reconcile her memories of her husband with the emerging picture of his death is poignant and real. So too, is the way she stubbornly refuses help in the face of incredible need. That desperation to be everything that her children need has to be painfully crushed before she learns that letting go is sometimes the only way forward and that other people (her father and step-mother, her friend, her son, even her rival) sometimes hold the key to life and freedom. 

You Were Always Mine charts the mysteries of a mother’s heart and a father’s search for justice. It shows just how much we all need each other, and how the assumptions that we make can hamstring our happiness and that of others. By pushing through the darkness and acknowledging the pain, by trusting others and forgiving ourselves, things can come right in the end.

Mandy Dugan lives in Brentwood, TN with her husband and three children (and a dog, a gecko, and three fish). She loves words and projects, and still has a great deal to learn from life and the people (and animals) around her. Find her at mandy@duganeditorial.com.