Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Review: "Every Other Weekend" by Zulema Renee Summerfield

"It is 1988 and America is full of broken homes. America's time is measured in every-other-weekend-and-sometimes-once-a-week. Her drawers are filled with court papers and photos no one looks at anymore. Her children have bags that're always packed and waiting by the door."

Nenny is eight years old when her parents tell her and her brothers, Bubbles and Tiny, that they are getting divorced, their father is moving into a new apartment, and they'll see him every other weekend.

After living in a house with their mother and a friend of hers from the hospital where she works, their mother starts dating a new man, Rick, a Vietnam vet who also works at the hospital. Rick has two children of his own, Kat, an emotional, know-it-all 16-year-old, and Charles, who is Nenny's age.

Once Nenny and her siblings have gotten used to the upheaval in their lives, they are thrown another loop when their mother and Rick marry, and they move into Rick's house. Suddenly, Nenny has more siblings and has to deal with a mother who must spread her attention and love even thinner, plus she must navigate the newness of Rick, his off-putting silences, his thriftiness, and the emotional distance he seems to keep.

Nenny is a nervous child with an overactive imagination. She fears experiencing the types of disasters she hears about on the news—fires, earthquakes, home invasions—but she also fears unbelievable scenarios she's dreamed up, like Mikhail Gorbachev drafting her and all of her classmates into the Russian army, or her mother disappearing, never to be heard from again. But as she prepares for what she believes to be the worst to happen, she and her family are unprepared for the tragedy that does occur.

Every Other Weekend is a nostalgic look at growing up a child of divorce, when all of the things you've relied on for security are gone, and you have to become acclimated to an entirely new life. It's a book about desperately wanting to be noticed, wanting to be loved, and having that need be so palpable. It's also a book about how families can change shape and reform, and how it takes time to realize that comfort and love come from surprising places, when we least expect it.

This was a sweet book, and Zulema Renee Summerfield really created a memorable character with Nenny—silly, sweet, emotional, loving, confused, fearful, and curious. I thought the book would be pretty predictable, yet Summerfield definitely chose her own path from time to time. She's a very talented writer, and none of her characters are more precocious than their ages—they sound authentic rather than too clever for their own good.

The story shifts between real life and Nenny's fears, as well as some strange chapters which felt a little more like non sequiturs than plot devices, and that disrupted the flow of the story for me. But at its core, this is a poignant story with a lot of heart, featuring an endearing character you'll remember.

NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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