Sunday, April 14, 2019

Book Review: "The Overdue Life of Amy Byler" by Kelly Harms

"I have suffered plenty. I am a poster child for low-grade chronic suffering. If an ad agency wanted to make suffering into a thirty-second spot, they would make a time-lapse video of me in my three colors of elastic-waistband teacher pants shoveling eight inches of snow at five a.m. so my kids can get to their early-bird activities on time, then teaching 250 overprivileged kids how to not use computers for porn for ten hours, and then collapsing in front of Outlander too tired to even find, much less turn on, my vibrator at the end of the day."

For the last three years, Amy Byler has been the sole provider for her two children: 15-year-old Cori and 12-year-old Joe. She's barely keeping her head above water financially, working as a school librarian in order to keep her kids in private school, tending to the myriad repair needs of their beautiful yet historic (read: old) Pennsylvania house, and doing all of the disciplining, the chauffeuring, and everything else. That's been the drill since her husband left for a business trip in Hong Kong and decided not to come back.

But now, John is back. He's realized he has been a terrible father and he wants to be a part of his children's lives again. He asks Amy to give him a week with the kids so he can begin seeking their forgiveness. (Much to Amy's chagrin, he accepts all of her criticisms and angry insults, and keeps apologizing, but he doesn't seem too interested in her forgiveness.) Reluctantly, she takes him up on his offer, and heads to New York for a week to attend a library conference.

When Amy arrives in New York, the scene of some crazy college days, she's looking forward to a week of professional development, sleeping in, and reading a ton of books. Instead, she starts to let her hair down a little bit, and even meets a handsome librarian along the way. But she still can't stop worrying about her husband spending time with the kids, whether he's going to make some colossal mistake, or—worse—whether her kids will even miss her.

Her old college friend, now the editor of a lifestyle magazine, convinces/orders Amy to get a total makeover, and sets her on a course for a real vacation from parenting, a #momspringa, if you will. When her husband asks to spend the summer with the kids, Amy's newfound freedom turns into a real adventure followed by the magazine's readers. She takes advantage of all the city has to offer and starts finding herself again, even going on a few blind dates. But when one man threatens to steal her heart, she has to decide whether this "new Amy" will still exist when she returns home, and what it means for everything—and everyone—if she doesn't.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler was utterly charming, laugh-out-loud funny in parts, and an enjoyably thought-provoking read. Not being a woman or a parent, I may have missed some of the nuances of the story, but I think the book did a great job exploring the challenges women face as mothers, when they sacrifice everything else for their children and supporting their family. But when they do that, do they put their relationship with their spouse at risk, too, or is that something they shouldn't worry about?

I enjoyed many of the characters in this book, from Amy to her former-nun-now-teacher best friend Lena, "hot librarian" Daniel to self-absorbed magazine diva Talia. Sure, the plot is a bit predictable, and I felt like it dragged a bit in the middle, but I was looking for a lighter read and this book definitely delivered. This definitely fits the bill when you've been reading a lot of brooding thrillers or books heavy on emotion—while there is still poignancy here, Kelly Harms keeps the tone light as she explores serious issues.

Are you in need of a #momspringa? Wish you could have had one? The Overdue Life of Amy Byler will give you the lowdown, and entertain you, to boot.

Lake Union Publishing and Amazon First Reads provided me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

The book will be published May 1, 2019.

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