Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book Review: "It's. Nice. Outside." by Jim Kokoris

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for making it available!

A dysfunctional family and a road trip: could you ask for anything more from a book?

John Nichols is 57. He's an ex-basketball player, ex-author, ex-philanderer, ex-husband, ex-high-school English teacher, or, as he likes to put it, "A. Lot. Of. Exes." He and his ex-wife Mary are parents to three children: high-strung queen bee Karen, rising comic star Mindy, and 19-year-old Ethan, who is developmentally challenged and autistic. Raising Ethan was the root cause of much of the friction that the Nichols family dealt with, as they tried to navigate his various phases, mercurial moods, and assorted demands, but he also provides them many moments of pure joy and unconditional love.

When Karen is scheduled to get married in South Carolina, John decides that he and Ethan will drive from their home in Illinois to the wedding. He's hoping for some good bonding time with his son—they'll visit the scene of John's college glory days, meet up with a neighbor, play some basketball—and John is also hoping the time in the car will inspire him to find a direction for the rest of his life. But the journey to South Carolina is fraught with crises and family drama, and while at times Ethan has his moments, at other times he's the easiest to deal with.

But things are about to get a lot more complicated, as John prepares to share with his family a life-changing decision he has made. It will send all of them on a road trip fraught with emotions and anger, force them to re-evaluate their relationships with one another, and be honest with themselves. This is a quirky, sweet, emotional story of what holds a family together and what tears them apart, and how sometimes the things we take for granted are the things we need the most.

I enjoyed this book, even if I wasn't necessarily surprised by the plot. Jim Kokoris has created a motley crew of characters, many of whom seem one-dimensional at first but are more complex than you think, and he makes you care about them. Ethan seems like a special person, and I think Kokoris accurately captured the push-and-pull of emotions and frustrations that come with a family member whose needs are more complicated than others'.

It's. Nice. Outside. is a book with both heart and humor (especially the conversations John creates for a group of Ethan's stuffed bears), and it will make you feel at least a tiny bit warm and fuzzy inside.

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