From Publishers Weekly
contributing editor Johnson examines in her heartbreaking debut the ties that bind and break in the face of tragedy. Darius, a Shakespeare scholar and professor, and his wife, Sophia, head of membership at a local art museum, are mired in the banal ebb-and-flow of family life they share with their two teen daughters—bookish Miranda and imperious social butterfly Helen. A sisterly tussle over use of the family car ends with Miranda attending college orientation and finding herself attracted to fellow freshman-to-be Jason, and Helen, while riding on the back of her just-dumped boyfriend's motorcycle, getting into a horrific traffic accident. As Helen lies in the ICU suspended between life and death, the author gives voice to the people Helen has touched: Darius and Sophia find little solace in each other; Harry Harlow, the game show host who was involved in Helen's accident, witnesses his life falling apart; and Miranda awkwardly navigates the feelings Jason has stirred within her. While the wandering focus on disparate characters pulls the novel in unwieldy directions (as when Miranda drops out to follow her boyfriend to Alaska), Johnson's portrayal of a family's grieving is exquisitely crafted. (Jan.)
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*Starred Review* Johnson’s debut tells the story of one family’s tragedy and the ripple effect it causes. When 18-year-old Miranda McMartin and her 16-year-old sister, Helen, get into a fight over who can take the car, neither the girls nor their parents imagine the decision will result in Helen being involved in a terrible motorcycle accident involving Helen’s boyfriend. He dies, and Helen is in a coma. While the McMartins make daily pilgrimages to the hospital, decisions about Helen’s care start to divide the once tightly knit family. And the man whose car the motorcycle hit, game show host Harry Hawlow, finds his easy, comfortable life eroding around him when he’s put on forced leave from his show. As one parent clings to hope while the other tries to move on, Miranda follows her college boyfriend to the wilderness of Alaska. Unflinching and heartbreaking, Johnson’s first novel deftly depicts the different ways people react to and own tragedy, be it one that directly or tangentially affects them. The powerful story and characters will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned. --Kristine Huntley