Are We There Yet? by Kathleen West
Publication Date : March 16th 2021
Publisher : Berkley Books
Genre : Fiction / Women’s Fiction
Pages : 352
Alice Sullivan, a high-achieving architect and mom of two, is used to being in control. Until life rips the blueprints right out of her hands.
While she’s always strived for a picture perfect life, Alice’s foundation is rocked when she discovers her daughter is failing reading at school, and worse, her son is a bully, having humiliated a classmate on stage in front of 500 of their peers. Alice feels desperate to make things right, but when she turns to her friends for support, she discovers her own social standing has eroded now that she’s one of “those moms” who can’t control her kids.
As she tries to figure out where she went wrong, her curated life unravels further. She faces setbacks with a key client, her husband travels incessantly for business, and her mother decides to unload a family secret she’s kept for more than thirty years–one that shifts Alice’s entire perception of herself.
Despite her attempts to keep things under control, Alice can no longer rely on a spotless kitchen and an inventive mudroom design to make her feel better. She’s been trying to beat the competition, measuring her success and happiness by everyone else’s standards. Alice finds help, comfort, and strength from unexpected places, once she realizes that no one’s got it all together, and that maybe that’s okay.
*** Disclaimer: Many thanks to Stephanie @Berkley for providing review copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ***
Are We There Yet? Was interesting women’s fiction and family drama about mothers struggling with their kids’ precarious junior high transition. It was about parenting, new age, impulsiveness, misuse of phone and social media, insecurity, overprotectiveness, dysfunctional family, and friendship.
TW- bullying, child pornography
Writing was engaging and gripping that hooked me to story from the beginning. Short chapters made me flip pages faster than I expected. It was multiple third person narrative that made it easy to know each character better.
It started with Alice’s perfect life spirally out of control when she got warning from her friend Nadia about Teddy, finding out her 2nd grade daughter is behind in her reading levels and getting the emergency call from assistant principle about disciplinary actions against her son for bullying classmate. To make things worse, her boss was giving her hard time, her mother unloaded family secret that shattered her confidence and security, and husband being away most of the time because of job made her helpless and clueless how to handle all the problems alone. I was curious to find out how Teddy’s impulsiveness would impact Alice life, what she would do about her mother’s secret, and how she was going to solve problems in her life, where would she get help from and who would stand alongside her in time of crisis.
This was character driven, realistic, relatable and reflective story that mainly focused on Alice but we also see life of her friends, Meredith and Nadia– Three mom best friends who had different style of parenting- and how their life changed on seeing misbehaviour in their kids as they entered junior high.
All characters were flawed and interesting. They weren’t written to be likable but to understand their situation, mindset, mistakes, and how they rectified it. All of them had their own voice, were different from each other, and it was amazing to see how they connected, fought, and developed over the course of story and how they made me feel differently about all of them as story progressed. Sometimes they made me agree with them, like them, blame, dislike and feel sorry for them. I have mixed feelings for Alice’s mother and Patrick. All secondary characters played amazing role in story.
Alice was too busy in her interior business partnered with her boss to properly focus on what her kids were actually doing in life. She was happy as long as their grades were good and they were until she had that interview with second grade teacher of Adrian, her daughter, and dreadful call from her son Teddy’s school. I felt for her doing everything alone with husband never at home until weekends- carpooling, taking care of kids, job that kept her busy, boss who didn’t understand life of mother, and then all troubles coming from all sides. It sure wasn’t easy thing for her and yet she managed. Her relationship with her husband was mature, his absence irritated her but they never had big fight about it. She went along, tried to make her mother happy even though she wasn’t ready with her mother’s secret. He emotions about her kids and everything that was going on were realistic.
At the same time, I also agreed with her friends and mother about her being selfish. I don’t think she was doing wrong in giving a little more priority to her job, she had right to individuality, but she was selfish in making everything about her image as mother, how it was making her feel, and what others thought about what her son did than getting at root of the problem. She thought worst of her child on finding out he was a bully. It made me laugh when she thought he was criminal and would end up in jail before college! She was overreacting most of the time and was being childish than thinking things rationally. But I could see myself frustrated in her situation as well. I admired how she didn’t wait to make changes in their routine, took steps to make things right, tried to talk to Teddy, took all the help she could get and even apologised for her behaviour.
Meredith was most arrogant helicopter mother. While I did feel a bit for Alice, I never liked Meredith from the beginning. She was too controlling and pushing. She thought she knew her daughter, Sadie, best, and she was most aware mother who read all articles about parenting and talking Sadie about it, instilling perfectionism and making sure Sadie excelled in academic and other activities. I could see her perfect imagine was going to break soon with secret Insta and Snapchat accounts. As a mother, I stood by her side and could feel how hard it might be to go through what Sadie, Tane and Teddy did but I didn’t like her ‘not my child’, ‘my girl can’t do that’ persona on finding what Sadie did and tried to turn Sadie’s fault in victimization and badmouthed Alice.
Teddy was most impulsive among all kids mentioned in this book. At first, I hated him. He was jerk and mean, was keeping bad companies in name of friends ,and was going after Tane out of jealousy. He was rude and unremorseful that made me think Alice and Patrick were at fault as they clearly lacked conversations as a family. What he did to Tane and Saddie was surely worst thing. But he didn’t even know what might be the consequences, definitely didn’t think long. He was lost child who needed therapist and both parents. Once he got into therapy, saw what his actions was doing to people, his parents, and faced punishments, changes in him were great to read.
First Tane and then Sadie suffered because of Teddy’s poor behaviour but that weren’t free from faults. Sadie too didn’t think about what she was doing and what might be the consequences. She and Teddy weren’t that different in that matter. I didn’t like Tane getting out of it lightly. He was worst of them all and made feel sad for Sadie.
Nadia was most likable person in whole book. I loved her for warning Alice every time her son, Donovan, told what was going on in school involving Teddy. Donovan was troublemaker from the beginning and I felt for Nadia when Alice and Meredith didn’t understand her situation and in fact talked behind her back about her parenting, feeling relieved for having perfect kids. Her feeling of vindictiveness was genuine and at the same time she supported Alice and stood up for her when Meredith turned her back. I wish there were more chapters for Nadia. We don’t know her as closely as other two moms.
I liked the way author presented mothers’ insecurity, teenage life, child psychology, therapy, parenting and its impact, social media and technology. What I could see from this story was, there is no right way of parenting, even controlling parents couldn’t control what their kids were doing nor could see the changes in their kids and lacklustre parenting also didn’t help the kids. Parents were right to monitor things their kids were doing on social media but kids are definitely smarter when it comes to technology. It’s important to discuss things with kids, make them aware of their actions and its consequences, cons of social media and what misuse of it can cause than just controlling things.
I could see most of twist and turns coming. There wasn’t big surprise and yet I enjoyed reading the story of these three mothers and their relationship with their kids and each other till the end. End was perfectly feel-good and uplifting.
Overall, Are We There Yet? Was fast paced, engaging, and very reflective women’s fiction. It was a perfect book club read and readers can find so many things to discuss about. I highly recommend this book to fans of family drama and women’s fiction.
About the Author :
Kathleen West is a veteran middle and high-school teacher. She graduated with a degree in English from Macalester College and holds a Master’s degree in literacy education from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Minneapolis with her hilarious husband, two sporty sons, and very bad goldendoodle.
What do you think about the book and review? Have you read this book or going to add to TBR? Which is your favourite fiction featuring parenting?
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