Blind Turn

“Does one monstrous mistake make you a bad person?” That’s the central question in Cara Achterberg’s latest book, Blind Turn, which published January 7, 2021. It’s a timely theme which, which probes the ideas of responsibility and forgiveness and made me think not just of my own life but also of things happening in wider world. Cara deftly weaves together two points of view to tell an emotionally difficult but hopeful story. It’s the kind of book I love: a gripping story with life-like characters who ponder important questions and teach readers what they learn along the way. It’s more than a good read. It should be essential reading for everyone but especially parents and young people. I highly recommend it!

The narrative starts with a car crash that kills an important man. The teenager responsible for his death, an honor student and track star, was texting and driving. Even though my own children are grown, I found imagining either of them in this same situation, one too horrific to contemplate, all too easy. I think that’s one of the story’s strengths—distracted driving is something most people could identify with. Cara skillfully weaves the events of the book together with the characters feelings and struggles and offers hard-won wisdom at the moments wisdom is needed in the story.

The book opens with Liz Johnson answering a phone call from Jake, her ex-husband, at the retirement home where she works. He explains their daughter Jess was in an accident and is banged up but okay. Then he says she hit someone and that the man she hit is dead. Jess is concussed and doesn’t remember the accident. To make matters worse, the man she killed is the beloved football coach, Jess’s father’s high school football coach, in the small Texas town of Jefferson where Jess and Liz live.

Of course, Jess is in legal jeopardy, but this family doesn’t have money for a hotshot lawyer to defend their daughter from the kind of charges she faces. Consequently, Liz turns to a lawyer who was once interested in her for help. Trouble is he’s not a defense lawyer and has no experience. As Jess recovers, she and Liz face persecution at work, at school and online. Jess’s best friend, who was in the car with Jess at the time of the accident, abandons her and joins in condemning Jess for Coach’s death. Everyone blames Jess, everyone except Coach’s wife.

When Jess first returns to school, she goes to counseling with Ms. Ellen and begins to think of the accident and her role in it. Liz and the lawyer try to find a way to defend Jess since she still doesn’t remember what happened. To prepare for track season and to stay sane, Jess goes for long runs past Coach Mitchell’s house. Eventually, she also stops to see Mrs. Mitchell, Coach’s wife, and begins walking Sherman, her dog. Jess also begins to make different friends at school, but her best friend Sheila ignores her and openly mocks her.

Meanwhile, Liz’s boss pressures to quit her job. When she does, she goes to work for the lawyer. During their research to figure out how to save Jess, they become involved though he is still married to his estranged wife. To escape the pressure of life in Jefferson, Jess moves into her father’s trailer. She becomes involved with a boy named Fish who lives alone in the same trailer park where her father lives. Jess convinces Fish to help her run away from home on his motor scooter.

After the police find the them, Jess returns to her home in Jefferson and goes back to school. All the while Jess’s trial looms closer, and jail time for Jess seems more likely than ever. Each chapter brings Jess and her mom closer to the trial, but what happens at the end is not what I had imagined. No spoiler from me. You’ll want to read this to find out what happens to Jess and Liz.  

If the accident begins the book, the aftermath of the accident defines it.  Blind Turn will make you think about the way we treat people, the way we assess situations and assign blame, especially if we are not directly involved, and the way we can accept what we can’t change. Human beings are fallible and guilty and good and kind, as multi-faceted as kaleidoscopes. Indeed, our perception and understanding changes depending on how we look at a situation, how close we are to it and how directly involved. This was a book about texting and driving and the consequences of that kind of mistake, but it’s also a book about human nature, at its best and at its worst. Thanks for writing a wonderful book, Cara!

Review of Little Pieces of Me by Alison Hammer

Thank you to William Morrow and Net Galley for a digital ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review.
I knew I’d love this story of a surprise uncovered by a DNA test because my husband found a surprise in his family tree, though it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the one Paige Meyer discovers in Little Pieces of Me.

Paige, a woman in her forties, feels like she doesn’t belong in her family. Her relationship with her mother is prickly, and her father, who loved her unconditionally, has passed away. After Paige receives an email from a DNA testing website that reveals her late father isn’t her DNA father, she is devastated and questions her identity, her relationship with her father, and her mother’s honesty and love. With help from her two best friends, Paige begins the process of discovering who she really is. Eventually she learns the truth about herself, the man who raised her, her mother, and the relationship between her mother and her DNA dad, but it’s a rocky road she travels to understand the meaning of love and forgiveness.

The story is told in dual timelines: the present called “Now” in Paige’s point of view, and “Then,” in 1975 which follows Betsy’s and Andy’s college years and shows us who Paige’s mother and DNA dad were before they conceived Paige. This organizational setup must have been complicated to pull off, but it reveals the motivations and secrets of each character in the story at the exact moment I wanted and needed to know them. Even though the characters of Elizabeth and Betsy were the same person, this before and after timeline revealed the changes wrought by time and circumstance on Paige’s mother, father, and DNA dad. Elizabeth was Betsy before life and circumstances intervened, and Andrew was Andy.

I particularly liked stepping back in time in Betsy’s and Andy’s chapters. I think we sometimes forget our parents are and were as fully human as we are, so it was eye-opening to read those chapters and think of them as the background to Paige’s story and growth as a character and also how much our past influences our present. Their chapters brought back memories of my own college years and the secrets I keep. They also made me think of my parents in a new way. Good books make us think in a new way about ourselves and the world, and this book is one that has resonated with me on many levels.

As I read, these questions kept running through my mind. How well do we truly know our parents? How many people keep secrets this big? At what age do we view ourselves as individuals rather than as our parents’ children, or do we ever do that? I could not put this book down and highly recommend it!