After They Go by J. Mercer
Publication date: May 15th 2018
Genres: Coming of Age
A large family saga set in a coastal tourist town.
One sister chained by family tradition.
The second stunted by her sister’s shadow.
The youngest propelled by desperation.
Gwen is the oldest of four children in the Aaldenberg family, and the one who seems to have it all. She’s also most desperate to escape. Betta, having nursed their dying grandpa for the past three years, is anxious for Gwen to go, so she can finally have reins to the family business. And Esmerelda, viciously determined to follow in Gwen’s footsteps, vies for popularity as a freshman in high school, only to learn she must sell her soul, reputation, and most prized possession for acceptance.
As their father struggles with retirement and their mother with depression, Gwen discovers the debt her grandfather’s passing left them in—and during a time of year when their coastal town, dependent on tourists, can barely sustain itself. Gwen and their father agree Betta can’t take over the store under such stressful circumstances, not when she’s been carrying the load for so long, and to protect Betta, they play it off that she needs some time to rest.
When Gwen’s fiancé moves to town, Gwen does her best to resign herself to a local life, while Betta struggles for meaning without the store. In order to carve out a place for herself, Betta must decide to what lengths she’ll go in order to become her own person, and Gwen must decide what’s more important: her sister or her future.
Can this family pull through their disappointment, jealousy, and regret? Or will they cling so tightly to their desires that it ruins them?
Imagine being sat in front of the TV, watching a show with intersecting characters with separate plot lines and knowing that you can’t go out of the room to make a cup of tea, because if you do, you will completely lose the thread. This is the book equivalent of that.
It is a little confusing at times, to be honest, because the story is told from so many different points of view, each with a defined path through the narrative that interacts with the others.
That said, once you get into it, what the author has produced is a tale with a pervasive feeling of hopelessness and desperation. Each of the characters plays into that in their own way – the need to leave, the desire to stay, the yearning to be accepted. And each character has a very distinctive voice.
Pulling them all together the author has created an unconventional, emotional story of family with an ending which, whilst unusual, works in the context of the story.
I voluntarily reviewed a reviewer copy of this book.
J. Mercer grew up in Wisconsin where she walked home from school with her head in a book, filled notebooks with stories in junior high, then went to college for accounting and psychology only to open a dog daycare. She wishes she were an expert linguist, is pretty much a professional with regards to competitive dance hair (bunhawk, anyone?), and enjoys exploring with her husband—though as much as she loves to travel, she’s also an accomplished hermit. Perfect days include cancelled plans, rain, and endless hours to do with what she pleases. Find her on Facebook @jmercerbooks or online at www.jmercerbooks.wordpress.com.