Customer Reviews: Driving Sideways: A Novel
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VINE VOICEon September 5, 2008
Twenty-eight-year-old Leigh Fielding has a new chance at life thanks to Larry Resnick, a man she's never met - or more precisely, thanks to Larry's kidney. After five years on dialysis, Leigh is given the gift of a new kidney and a renewed sense of optimism; after all, for a long time she thought she wouldn't see her thirtieth birthday. Inspired by Larry and his gift, Leigh does what anyone who has been hooked up to a machine three days a week would want to do - she gets out of her hometown of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

A road trip seems like the perfect way to start her new life. Planning out stops along the way (visiting friends Meg and Jillian, dropping in unannounced on Larry's grandmother to thank her for his gift and find out more about him), her ultimate destination is California. There her mother disappeared to when she left Leigh, her brother, James, and their father, who killed himself about a year later. However, along the way, something unexpected happens - Leigh picks up a hitchhiker. Seventeen-year-old Denise is a runaway from her foster home, hiding from a bad boyfriend. She asks Leigh to take her along to California and Leigh, feeling daring with her new lease on life, agrees to the companionship, though she doesn't entirely trust Denise. Together they embark on a hilarious and unforgettable journey across the country and find parts of themselves scattered along the way.

Driving Sideways is charming, insightful, and wonderfully funny. It is a story of self-discovery and loss, of hope and despair. The characters are incredibly well-written, and it is easy to sympathize with their stories. Though Leigh has had renal failure, she doesn't dwell in this place of darkness. Instead, she is irreverent and whimsical, only wanting the chance to live. After all, the doctors told her that the new kidney isn't a cure - it is simply a treatment that may fail in time. Leigh is careful with her new kidney, not taking any chances that might put Larry in harm's way. Sometimes that is the hardest part of reading a novel like this, watching the protagonist head down a spiral that is certain to lead to their own destruction (I can have just one drink, I'll be okay). The reader sees it, the other characters in the book see it, yet it happens anyways - frustrating and unpleasant to read. The fact that Leigh actually takes her sickness seriously and, while tempted, does not stray from her strict diet and healthy lifestyle is refreshing and a welcome change in novels in general.

The most appealing aspect of Driving Sideways would have to be Jess Riley's sense of humor. The novel is witty and fun with more than a few laugh-out-loud parts. Though it is about a very long roadtrip, the narrative itself doesn't drag butt goes quickly; Riley keeps readers interested (and amused) through the twists and turns of the roads that Leigh finds herself upon. The novel has a lot of heart and emotion, but it is never cheesy or sappy, demonstrative of Riley's talent as a writer. She manages to touch her readers and evoke the emotions she wants them to feel without telling them to do so. It is a mark of her ability to write sympathetic and believable characters that the reader really does care about.

Driving Sideways is a winning debut novel and is a wonderful showcase of Jess Riley's talent as an author. Whether her next book is a sequel to her first or an entirely new story, I will be first in line to see what else she can do with her impressive capacity as a writer.

Originally published at Curled Up With a Good Book
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on August 11, 2008
I flat out loved this book! First, Jess Riley's writing is so witty and clever I was chuckling to myself throughout Driving Sideways. Second, I fell in love with the character of Leigh and her friends, especially Denise. I think I loved Leigh because she is like me in a lot of ways. She is full of useless pop culture information. She is also scared of branching out on her own and this trip she goes on is a big step for her and in turn becomes a life changing experience. The ending is like life in that it is not wrapped up in a perfect bow but is truly fitting. Driving Sideways is full of adventure, humor, hope and most of all love. It will make you want to grab your best friend and go for an adventure and experience this wonderful life that we have.
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on August 13, 2008
I bought this book because I also I have PKD and wanted to know more about the disease from someone experiencing it in a sence. I could not put it down it was funny in all the right spots and sooo spot on. I picked this book up to read a couple chapters before bed, It's 6:41am I just finished it, guess I can head to bed now!
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on September 10, 2015
It has been said that brevity is the soul of wit. Author Jess Riley needs to take that philosophy into account. Twenty-eight-year-old Leigh, in her drive from Wisconsin to California to reunite with the mother who abandoned her as a child, reminds me of the annoying passenger who, seated next to you on a plane, spends hours telling you all the intimate and irrelevant details of her life.
There are two ways to tell a story about, for instance, the time you were bitten by a dog. You might say, "I was walking up to the corner store one day and a little brown dog got away from his owner and bit my ankle." That pretty much covers it. On the other hand, we all know that person who would tell the same story this way: "I was walking to the store last Tuesday, no, Wednesday, or was it Thursday? No, it was Wednesday because it was my brother's birthday and I needed to buy candles for his cake because he was turning thirty and I only had twenty eight candles. Oh, wait, it WAS Tuesday because it was the day before his birthday! Well, anyway, there was this lady walking toward me and she had a beagle. No, a dachshund. Or was it a shih tzu? Oh, right it was a cocker spaniel..." The latter example is how this book is written.
The premise was good and the potential was there for a good light read. It is unfortunate that the author got sidetracked so frequently and in painful detail. As a voracious reader, I tend to finish several books in a week but this one dragged on until I realized that I had spent more time on it than the protagonist did on her two-week trip.
Admittedly, it may be that I no longer identify with twenty-eight-year-olds taking roadtrips to examine their lives because, at twenty eight, I was rearing three children and otherwise being a grownup. But I digress. I'll stop now.
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on August 11, 2008
This book will make you roll on the floor laughing. It will make you cry. It will inspire you to find the better person inside yourself. The writing is free-flowing; never distracting. The author puts you directly in the driver's seat with Leigh. What a fresh new talent that you will surely hear more from.
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on July 31, 2008
This is a very good book. My husband has PKD and is currently on two transplant lists. The author really did her homework about the disease. The story was very enlightening, funny and well written. I highly recommend this book.
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on September 11, 2015
This was hands down the absolutely best novel I have read to date. I am 57, became an avid reader at 12, except for the clubbing years and keep my eyes open with toothpicks (because the gynecologist said I probably couldn't have children) with two little ones two years apart, I can knock out 350 pager in about 5 hours. A lot of books, to compete with, but this one was timely and true, morbidly hilarious, for someone who can be morbidly hilarious and has a chronic illness.As I always say, I laughed, I cried, I was moved, but this time, no sarcasm, I was.
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on October 31, 2015
This story was obviously written to discuss PKD. It is like reading a young girl's diary about her road trip. The journey and story rambles on and on and I found myself skimming through her trials and tribulations that were neither interesting or exciting. I was happy to get to the last page and begin a more interesting book.
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on March 6, 2009
This novel is in the "chick lit" category, but what a shame that few men will be willing to read it! The title, "Driving Sideways," comes from the movie "Sideways," and this involves a roadtrip of women (rather than the men's roadtrip in Sideways).

Twenty-something Leigh has recently received a kidney transplant after years of dialysis, and now that she's free of having dialysis three times a week, she decides to hit the road (over the strenuous objections of her brother). She wants to stop and see friends in Colorado and then go on to meet the family of the donor of her kidney (they're in Utah, she's in Wisconsin, finally ending up in California trying to find her mother, who abandoned the family when she was a small child. And then there's a former boyfriend Leigh stops to see...

At just about the first rest-stop, Leigh ends up with a hitchhiking runaway teenager named Denise. Denise is one of the more memorable characters in novels -- you could imagine an adjective based on her name and characteristics. She's both delightful and shady at the same time. You can never quite tell what she's really up to or how much you can believe her. In Colorado, Leigh's best friend Jillian is introduced -- a somewhat less novel character (she's into crystals), but still lively.

The escapades along the way -- many at places I've been, like the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, and Wall Drug -- make you want to hit the road yourself. The author captures the feel of road trips, including the increasing irritability as the drive progresses and everyone is starting to run out of things to talk about and is tired of sitting in a car.

I thought that the book was less compelling after Denise was dropped off in California --probably because Denise was such an entertaining character. However, Leigh's tale of living with kidney disease provides a novel twist to the road trip genre, as does her honesty about what it's like and good humor alternating with expressions of fear of dying before she's 30. The book is amusing even though it deals with such a serious topic. I can hardly wait for the next novel by this author, and hope she continues Leigh's story. Or Denise's!
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on September 18, 2015
I really loved this book. Not only as a chronic illness survivor, but as a reader. It was beautifully well written and made me feel like I was on Leigh's road trip with her. I feel like there should be more books written about a protagonist with chronic disease! Wonderful work, touched my heart and soul.
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