Can I say that it’s much harder to write a review for a book written by someone you know? Yes, it’s hard. I bought a copy of Relative Disenchantment, co-written by Patricia Shinn Wojtowicz and my friend, Christine Petersen Streed, both to support my friend and to support local authors in the Chicago suburbs. The good news is I don’t regret my decision because there was a lot to like about this first novel.
The overall story is both engaging and important to tell. Relative Disenchantment focuses on the experiences of Joanna, a college student juggling the heavy load of coursework at Northwestern University, her parents’ divorce, and the news that a recent fall may force her grandmother to leave her house to move to a nursing home. Joanna makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to fly to New Jersey to help her Grandma Ruth but the trip is just as much an escape from the conflicts in Illinois as it is a move to help out a family member. Joanna can’t stop fighting with her mom, feeling bad about ignoring the neediness of her dad, or worrying about her academic choices.
When she gets to New Jersey, Joanna discovers that Grandma Ruth has developed a bit of a hoarding problem and that getting her to follow her doctor’s orders is not as straightforward as Joanna imagined. Adding to the mix is Teddy, Joanna’s childlike uncle, who can’t be trusted to watch out for his mom. Still, Joanna also finds solace in hanging out with her grandmother and spending time in her world. However, as Joanna attempts to bring order back to her grandmother’s home and keep her mom from knowing she’s not at school, things begin to get complicated.
I enjoyed getting to know Joanna and Grandma Ruth though some of the other characters were less fully fleshed out—including both Joanna’s mom and uncle. I wanted more backstory or hints at how they had become the people they were. There was also a bit of first-novel clunkiness here—more telling than showing and some too formal dialogue. Still, the novel has some important things to say about how mothers influence daughters (and about how those daughters go on to influence their daughters) and so was definitely worth the read. I look forward to seeing what these authors tackle next.