by Shannon Hale
First sentence: “Becky was seven months pregnant when she met Felix Callahan.”
Release date: June 9, 2009
ARC sent to me by the publisher.
Becky is your normal, average, run-of-the mill, Mormon mother of (almost) four (she’s pregnant with her fourth when the book opens). She doesn’t work, instead focusing most of her energies on running her house and taking care of her kids and husband. She does dabble in screenwriting, and sends one off to a publishing house on a whim, not expecting much of anything. To her surprise, an agent asks to meet with her; she flies out to LA, and it’s at this meeting that her future changes: she meets, accidentally, Hollywood heart-throb Felix Callahan. When she and Felix discover they’re staying at the same hotel, and he offers to buy her dinner, Becky figures it’s a once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated experience (and will make a great story); besides, what do a Mormon mom and a British actor have in common, anyway?
Turns out that they the have formed a bond — purely platonic, of course — that keeps them connected through thick and thin. Over the course of eleven years, through good times as well as bad, Becky and Felix keep their friendship strong, and find the rewards that come from having a best friend.
Only in Hale’s adept storytelling hands can something this far-fetched become a poignant story of a Mormon woman, who in the face of a fairly prohibitive religious community (where men and women don’t usually form friendships outside of marriage) happens to have an unconventional friendship, with not only a man, but someone who is outside of the community and faith. The story becomes not one about friendship — there’s really not much given as a basis for Felix and Becky’s friendship; it’s just stipulated by Hale that they are — as it is a story about Becky, and how her friendship with Felix affects her life. There’s laughs (at least for me; Hale happens to have a sense of humor that I appreciate), there’s tears (lots and lots), there’s uncomfortable moments (especially for me, as a Mormon) as well as moments of true joy. Hale has a fascinating story here, and she knows how to milk it for all that it’s worth.
That said, I’m not sure that this book will be for everyone. It’s a very Mormon book, in the way Chaiam Potok’s are Jewish: Becky is Mormon, it permeates her life, her thinking, her being. It’s who she is. And while Hale does explain elements of the religion and culture, someone who is not familiar with it has the potential to be hanging at loose ends, wondering why this character would even begin to think this way. On the other hand, it’s not a conventional Mormon book; she doesn’t pander to traditional Mormon literature conventions, something which I greatly apprecaited. I liked Hale’s portrayal of Mormonism; she treats the religion and culture with love and good-humored ribbing. But, for a Mormon reader, who’s expecting the story to go in particular ways (it’s a book by a Mormon author with a Mormon main character, after all), they might be sorely disappointed.
Then again, it’s not a conventional chick-lit book, even though that’s the way Bloomsbury is marketing it. For one, it’s a very married book; more important than her relationship with Felix is her relationship with her husband, Mike. I liked her portrayal of them as a married couple: it’s a healthy, giving, committed relationship, one in which both partners feel loved, respected and valued. There’s very little romance, in the traditional chick-lit sense. And the ending, for better or for worse, is not a conventional ending (in any sense). I was surprised with the direction Hale took the story, but, in the end, very gratified.
I have to say, overall I adored it. I laughed, I cried, I fantasized, and it touched a place within me that I don’t often like to look at. I wondered… what if? But, then I put the book down, and looked out at my four girls playing outside with my dear husband, and was grateful for what I’ve got. And, perhaps, that’s all that Hale really wanted to do with this story.