The Breakdown Lane – Jacqueline Mitchard (giveaway)

Contest closed.

Tammy, I pulled your name out of the hat. Please contact me with your postal mail address so I can get this book to you.

[asa book]0061374520[/asa] Julieanne Gillis’s life falls apart in a matter of weeks. Her husband walks out on her and their three kids (two of them adolescents, one hardly out of toddlerhood) and goes into hiding so as not to be disturbed while he reinvents himself; then it turns out the odd symptoms she’s been having — and he’s been either ignoring or ridiculing — are something after all. Julieanne is diagnosed with [[multiple sclerosis]]. For a woman who’s greatest joy in life is dance and who takes great pride in her physical fitness, this is an especially hard blow.

She collapses, physically and emotionally. As Julieanne makes a living writing an advice column, the irony of her situation is not lost on her.

The narration switches between Julieanne and her oldest, Gabe. Gabe is fifteen, extremely observant and intelligent, but he’s got some learning disabilities and thus lives on the periphery at school, where the jocks call him Ed (for Special Ed). Wasn’t it Confucius who said ‘the stones in the street cry out at the cruelty of children’? Fortunately Gabe has a number of things going for him. He’s tall, a nice looking kid able to express himself and with enough confidence and perspective to stand up to the jocks. The adults at the high school are another matter. This novel throws a harsh light on the way public high schools can cause more harm than good and worse, how the staff and teachers sometimes take satisfaction in driving away kids who make them uncomfortable.

I really like Julieanne, who goes through hell and doesn’t turn into a saint, as so often happens in novels. She’s furious at her body and at Leo, the selfish idiot of a new-age spouting husband who doesn’t answer letters or phone calls from his desperate children; she’s worried about money and her kids and her job. Her sense of the absurd still struggles to the surface now and then, more so as her symptoms even out. I liked Julieanne, but I adored Gabe.

Gabe is one of those characters I want to grab by the ears and sit down to talk to. When Julieanne is too sick to turn in her advice column, he teams up with her best friend, a therapist, and they answer the letters together. But it’s Gabe’s personality that comes forward and he turns out to be far better than his mother at this advice business. Mostly because he pulls no punches. His advice is brief and unadorned with social niceties. Its popularity skyrockets, of course.

His voice is so authentic and his tone so believable I sometimes forgot I was reading fiction. Anybody who has had a kid who doesn’t fit into the standard high school cubbyholes and suffers for that will appreciate Gabe, because he provides a glimpse of what it’s like to be on the inside of that. I found myself wondering how I could get him and the Girlchild into the same room, and then I realized that this would only be possible within the confines of a Woody Allen movie.

This is a big novel with a lot of characters, but they are all very distinct one from the other, even those who don’t get a lot of face time with the reader. Julieanne’s very supportive parents-in-law, for example, experience what is going on in a way that is almost palpable. And then there’s Leo. I don’t want to say too much about him, except that he’s so awful that he manages to be disgusting and interesting at the same time.

In short, I found this a most satisfying read. It’s one of those stories that has been following me around and that I’ll have to read again to see what I missed the first time.

I’ve got an extra copy here, so if you’re interested, please leave a comment.

22 Replies to “The Breakdown Lane – Jacqueline Mitchard (giveaway)”

  1. I read this years ago and had forgotten about it until you wrote this entry. I remember being so mad at Leo I wanted to reach out through the pages and throttle him. So please, count me in!

  2. I was really struck by your description of this book, and if I don’t win it, I will try to find it at the library. This part of your review struck me the most:

    “The staff and faculty at the high school are another matter. This novel throws a harsh light on the way public high schools can cause more harm than good and worse, how the staff and teachers sometimes take satisfaction in driving away kids who make them uncomfortable.”

    This one sentence is the main reason I’m going back to teaching after a two-year hiatus. I talked a little bit about a school I used to work at, a charter school that was a cross between home-schooling and independent study. The kids who make public high school teachers and staff uncomfortable made up the majority of my students, and I really miss them. It is those students that I want to try and help in the mainstream public secondary school system.

    Thank you for posting this review; I can’t wait to read this book!

    1. Jessica — If there were only more of you in every school. Or more schools like the one you worked in. Or, preferably, both. I wish you luck with your return to teaching.

  3. Add my name to the virtual hat, please.

    When you posted that you were going to review the book, I went to Amazon and read the synopsis. And now that you’ve shared your take, I’m even more interested in reading it.

  4. I’ve always thought I should read more of Jacqueline Mitchard’s books and this review was so heartfelt, so thought provoking that I’ve decided I really must read this book.

  5. Toss my name in too please! I lived my whole life thinking my mother was the way all mothers were.She had multiple sclerosis the whole time, so only now as a parent and an adult do I see the differences between her and “normal.” This sounds like a wonderful book and I am very interested in Gabe’s perspective! Debbie

  6. Please throw my name in the hat! I was so intrigued by the first part of the synopsis you gave, I stopped reading the review and scrolled down to the bottom in hopes that you were giving away a copy. I didn’t want to read any more of your review because I wanted to be surprised. Even if I don’t win this, I’m going to add it to my enormously long wish list of books to acquire and read.

  7. No, don’t put my name in the hat. I’ll read the novel here.

    Web site observances: Clicking on comments brings up the part that mostly starts with “Leave a Reply” so that I must scroll to the top to look at all the replies. Clicking on comments used to display the first replies first.

    Also just below here are links for 2 Pajama Girls and 1 TTTT. “Best” shows prices at or below “New.” I know the bests are for used books, but maybe it would help if it actually said so.

  8. You had me at “the jocks call him Ed”. Stories involving strong children who have a hard time socially at school always grab me.

    You don’t need to put my name in the hat, though, because I’m going on a date with my husband tonight and I’ll buy a copy on the way to the restaurant. (Geek dates: we always stop at the bookstore before we eat, so as to have new books to keep us occupied during the wait for a table.)

  9. I’ve only read one Mitchard book, The Deep End of the Ocean (I think it may have been her first?). I still remember the scene in the hotel lobby when the little boy is lost. Thank you for the giveaway, and for the review–I’ll be sure to look for this one, too.

  10. Sounds like a great read – I’ll add it to my wish list. Thank you for writing such thoughtful and thorough book reviews. I’ve happily discovered so many new authors by reading your blog.

  11. Please throw my name into the hat also. If I don’t win (which is very likely) I will get it from the library.

  12. I too would like my name in the virtual pot. I have never been one to turn down a free book, especially one that sounds so very interesting.

  13. It sounds meaty. I have a friend whose son is 17 and from the care she takes with him and the eagle eye she has on his schooling situation, I figure he has some learning disabilities or social filter issues. Sounds like Gabe. But I’m not sure someone going through that every day would want to read about it. Good review – thank you.

  14. Throw my name in the hat please. My daughter’s friend’s mom has MS so I’d be interested to learn a little more about what she has to deal with.

  15. A chance to win a book?! Please put my name in too. It sounds like a book that I will have to add to my TBR pile even if I don’t win it.

  16. Put my name in, too, please. I’d like to read this book. The review reminded me of a past acquaintance whose mother had severe MS. Their relationship was strained because the daughter resented having to take over the running of the household from a very young age. We lost touch when I moved to another state, but I sometimes wonder if she ever was able to overcome her anger over her lost childhood.

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