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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough Paperback – January 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A recession-battered baby boomer divorcée struggles to keep it together after her mother moves in and her ex knocks up his much younger girlfriend in Pennebaker's sharp hen lit debut (after several YA novels). After the recession wipes out her savings, widowed Ivy moves in with daughter Joanie, who is recently divorced. Joanie's life is riddled with stress: she's saddled with making a living at a job she fears she can't do; worries that she'll never get past her divorce; and is constantly at odds with her cantankerous mother and her teenage daughter, Caroline. Spoiled, awkward Caroline lashes out at her one friend as often as she does her mother, and she's disgusted that her father is planning to marry a woman half his age after getting her pregnant, though Caroline does feel an unlikely kinship with her stepmother-to-be. There's a rare honesty in Pennebaker's work that allows for both empathy and ample schadenfreude as the women examine themselves and each other, and their inner lives have a winning warts-and-all air of authenticity. Pennebaker's effort delivers right through to its hopeful but realistic conclusion. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Joanie Pilcher, nearing 50 and recently divorced, is firmly entrenched in the sandwich generation. Working at a job she hates in an ad agency, she’s doing her best with her moody 15-year-old daughter, Caroline, and her depressed 77-year-old widowed mother, Ivy, who moved in six months earlier after her stock portfolio tanked. When Joanie’s ex calls to tell her that his much-younger live-in girlfriend is pregnant, it seems a final straw. Meanwhile, Caroline suffers typical teenage angst, hating her life, discovering pot, and mooning over handsome Henry in her Spanish class, and Ivy—keenly missing her old home and friends—tries to fill her days with Goggling on the Internet, with a little shoplifting on the side. Pennebaker brings the realism of her young adult novels to this debut adult novel, creating characters—both major and minor—who elicit sympathy and with whom readers can identify. Title and promotional blurbs aside, this is less lighthearted chick lit than a fairly grim look at life, with a welcome upbeat turn at the end. --Michele Leber
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425238563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425238561
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,357,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ruth Pennebaker is an author, columnist, public radio commentator, and blogger. PUCKER UP!, a wry, irreverent, and poignant book on aging, is her eighth book. She also wrote WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKTHROUGH, an adult novel, and three highly acclaimed young-adult novels, DON'T THINK TWICE, CONDITIONS OF LOVE, and BOTH SIDES NOW. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Texas Monthly, The Dallas Morning News, Texas Observer, Parents, Redbook, McCall's, Cooking Light, and other nationwide publications.

Ruth lives in Austin, with her mad-scientist husband. Her hobbies are reading, yoga, social criticism, and free-form worrying. A card-carrying member of the Chickasaw Nation, Ruth was born in Ponca City, Oklahoma, close to a refinery. She holds a bachelor's degree in comparative literature from Eckerd College and, for reasons that now elude her, a J.D. with honors from the University of Texas School of Law.

Ruth also blogs at www.geezersisters.com. Her website is at ruthpennebaker.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Carol Dawson on January 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is not only marvelously perceptive, it's hilarious. The author's wit, spare style of prose, and laconic, ironic delivery make it a pleasure that I devoured in one sitting. Three generations of women--a displaced grandmother, a harried and rejected divorcee of a mother, and a daughter fumbling her way through adolescence, make for a powerful package with which every reader out there, male or female, will readily identify. Ouch!--so close to home that we're actually sitting in this family home, watching these very funny and poignant proceedings occur, as the women grapple with life's demands and their own expectations, hopes, dreads, and ultimately support of one another. I highly recommend it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brette Sember on January 18, 2011
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I started reading this on a Saturday and before I knew it, I had frittered the day away finishing it. What I really love about this book is that Pennebaker really knows how each of the three generations of women think. We've all been or are going to be each of these women in some way and Pennebaker seems to know that. The voice of each character is incredibly authentic and highlights how I think many women of those ages really feel. I loved the honest family dynamics between the three women, which makes you cringe if you lived any of it because it is so real.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By momofsix on February 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. I'm the middle of the three generations profiled in this book, more or less (though I don't have teenagers - yet) and I really enjoyed remembering what it was like to be an awkward adolescent, knowing what it's like to be someone my age, and looking ahead to the years that lie ahead. There was plenty of poignancy and sadness, but also dry wit and humor. The characterization was simply spot on, too. As a writer myself, I was in awe of the craft that went into making these characters so vivid and real. I know it's not at all easy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Laurel-Rain Snow TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
Three female members of a family at different stages of their lives are trying to coexist.

Sandwiched between her seventy-six-year-old mother, Ivy, and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Caroline, Joanie Pilcher (approaching fifty) feels overwhelmed at times, emotionally bankrupt, and definitely misunderstood. She is so "done" with men that she has vowed never to have sex again. Caroline is at a point of fearing that she will never find anyone to love her, much less to have sex with her. And Ivy is flailing about, trying to discover who she is in this new life in which she has no real place of her own, and in her attempt to define who she is, she makes some risky choices.

In the voices of each female, we come to understand their dilemmas as we peek inside each one in turn; and then we have the opportunity to root for each of them as this story unfolds to yield a very satisfying meeting of the minds.

Along the way, we meet the women in Joanie's support group; Caroline's only friend Sondra; and observe Ivy's somewhat unusual friendship with a waitress named Lupe.

We also see glimpses of the young woman B. J., whom Joanie's ex-husband is now planning to marry. She is at an entirely different place in her life, but each character has a chance to see her at a time of crisis, and in this moment, Ivy and Caroline each see a side of Joanie they had never acknowledged.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough is a story that can resonate with any woman who has ever been a mother, a daughter, or a displaced elderly person, and reminds us that empathy is the stepping stone to connecting with those we love.

Five stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Hawn on January 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Based on her other writing, I knew I could count on Pennebaker for a respite from and a laugh about real life. I've had a hard time reading lately because I'm so distracted with family medical dramas and eldercare pressures, so if a book can hold MY attention, that's saying something.

Pennebaker's book does NOT disappoint.

It's funny and aggravating at the same time, as three generations of women live in the same house (not by choice) and muddle the best they can through their individual and collective dramas.

An exercise in perspectives -- generational, mother-daughter, and otherwise -- Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough reveals the grace and humor, frustration and (yes) anger, that consumes us ... especially at times of big transitions.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By zibilee VINE VOICE on March 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
Joanie Pilcher is about to turn fifty and has recently been left by her husband. If that's not enough to make her feel overwhelmed, her eighty year old mother is also living with her and her sullen teenage daughter. When Joanie gets a call from her ex-husband letting her know he's gotten his new twenty-nine year old girlfriend pregnant, Joanie begins to fall off the precipice of good mental health. Trapped in an ad-exec job she hates and a divorce support group that can sometimes be judgemental, Joanie is slowly losing it. Ivy, Joanie's mother, is also deteriorating. Though she used to live on her own, the financial crash has eaten up her savings, forcing her into her daughter's home, where she doesn't feel welcomed or appreciated. Meanwhile, the teenage Caroline fears she has some sort of multiple personality disorder because she can't understand why she's so angry with everyone in her life except the handsome and oblivious Henry. As the three women orbit each other, they come to realize that life isn't filled with the happiness they once expected to find, and must learn to navigate not only the waters of their tenuous relationships, but the wider waters of a life that fluctuates wildly from day to day. Infused with an offbeat and potent humor, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough is the story of three women of three very different generations coming to terms with each other and with the wider world around them

One of the things I liked best about this story was the way Pennebaker was able to write from each woman's perspective so convincingly. Joanie, a baby boomer, is frustrated with her life and struggles with it due to her bitter attitude. She struggles because she believes that life should and could be so much more.
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