Author: Kristin Hannah
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.0 out of 5
Publisher's summary: For a mother, life comes down to a series of choices.
To hold on…
To let go..
Which road will you take?
For eighteen years, Jude Farraday has put her children’s needs above her own, and it shows—her twins, Mia and Zach—are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill moves into their small, close knit community, no one is more welcoming than Jude. Lexi, a former foster child with a dark past, quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable.
Jude does everything to keep her kids safe and on track for college. It has always been easy-- until senior year of high school. Suddenly she is at a loss. Nothing feels safe anymore; every time her kids leave the house, she worries about them.
On a hot summer’s night her worst fears come true. One decision will change the course of their lives. In the blink of an eye, the Farraday family will be torn apart and Lexi will lose everything. In the years that follow, each must face the consequences of that single night and find a way to forget…or the courage to forgive.
My Thoughts: I have seen Kristin Hannah reviewed on numerous book blogs throughout the community but never read one. I saw Night Road advertised in the Shelf Awareness Newsletter so I looked it up on Goodreads and the story sounded interesting. When I'm not feeling well or in a lot of pain, I like a book that isn't too intense or heavy, one that will distract and absorb me. Night Road is a sweet story but not what I expected or hoped. It was too melodramatic, the characters either too intense or too superficial and their behavior unrealistic, as were many of the situations in which they found themselves.
The story begins with one of the two main characters, fourteen year old Lexi Baill. meeting her great aunt Eva to live with her in a double-wide trailer in Port George, Washington. Lexi has already had more than her share of hardship and for many years lived in foster care. The trailer might not look like much but for Lexi it's paradise compared to some of the places she's lived. Lexi finds it difficult to trust that Eva really wants her living there with her. After all, it's been so long since Lexi has felt wanted or loved by anyone. But Eva tries to make Lexi understand that she wants her living in her home. Lexi and Eva form a tight bond we're told but Hannah spends little time on the details of their relationship. I was hoping to find out more about Lexi's family history and thought she and Eva would talk about that and other things. After so much time alone, I expected Lexi would want to be with her great aunt a lot more than she does. Hannah doesn't develop Eva's character and she makes only occasional appearances in this book which I found disappointing and puzzling.
Lexi meets Mia Farraday and her twin brother Zach, on the first day of school and the girls bond instantly. The twin's mother, Jude Farraday, decides Lexi, after some major questioning, is an acceptable friend for Mia despite her sketchy family history. Lexi quickly becomes like a third Farraday child. From here on in, the first half of the novel revolves around the Farraday’s world of wealth and privilege. There are regular reminders that Lexi wasn't born into this world but the only one who seems somewhat concerned about this, besides Eva, is Jude, who doesn't want anything to compromise the glorious future she has planned for her children.
On her worst day Jude Farraday would beat June Cleaver for mother of the year . Perhaps the similarity is the genesis of her name. Jude drives a black Escalade and is a Michele Pfeiffer look-alike. She's involved in every aspect of her children's lives and, though they are teenagers, aside from a few eye-rolls, are perfectly fine with that. Zach is Mr. Popularity and the smartest kid in the class while Mia is more introspective and nerdy. She's been a loner most of her life but has never begrudged Zach his circle of beautiful, terrific friends. At school they don't mix much but at home Mia and Zach are close. Now Mia has Lexi as her best friend so life is rosy.
Kristin Hannah's writing is engaging and each sentence flows smoothly into the next. But I found it difficult to take Night Road seriously. Hannah's created a superficial, perfect world in which the Farradays live. A trailer park world that couldn't be more different is Lexi's real home and one we see very little. In fact, once Lexi meets the Farraday Family, very little time in Night Road is spent on Lexi's side of Port George. Lexi spends almost all her free time with Mia or with the family at the Farraday home. Hannah virtually ignores her aunt Eva whose relationship is one-dimensional. Lexi's background and lifestyle are referenced infrequently and mostly only when she's having a bad moment. It's difficult not to feel that Hannah sees Lexi's world as uncomfortable and unacceptable.
Later in the novel, when Lexi descends to a dark place, Hannah brushes over it with a line or two, rather than use this time to show us another side of Lexi. It's as if Hannah doesn't want to admit there's a darker side of life. It's difficult to believe that Lexi, who hasn't trusted anyone for years, slips almost flawlessly into the Farraday's life, accepting them with few doubts or questions and, despite a glitch here or there, everything works out perfectly. Eva warns Lexi to be careful because the Farradays are so different from her, and cautions that Lexi shouldn't expect to be considered an equal when it comes down to it. In other words, the Farraday parents would never compromise their own for Lexi's benefit or comfort. It's obvious that Eva feels she doesn't have the right to tell Lexi what to do and she feels she cannot compete with the glitter and luxury of the Farraday's lifestyle.
Much of the book is spent showing Jude Farraday’s pride and obsession with her children. They come before anything else in her life. The book could have been up to one third shorter had the author give the reader enough credit to know that, after one or two examples, we understand that. But Hannah doesn't seem to be able to stop hammering home this point. This is beyond foreshadowing so when the inevitable crises does occur, there are no surprises. When tragedy strikes, Jude Farraday’s personality alters completely. We see a subdued, depressed side of her. Again, Hannah hammers home this side of Jude. We’re told again and again how unhappy she is, how ineffective she is in taking care of her family. What we don’t get is much insight into what’s going on with Jude. We’re told how she feels, what she thinks repeatedly but we don’t get more than a few pages about the deep, complex side of Jude Farraday. Why is she so obsessed with her children, why does life have to be so perfect, why can’t she face the bad stuff? This occurs with other characters in Night Road, as well. It brings us to the real problem: Hannah doesn't tell us, or doesn't give us enough to go on to help figure out why her characters do what they do. She makes bold statements about her characters but doesn't help inform us in any significant detail, as to the "why's" of their choices
Without going into detail, there is a tragedy that directly affects Jude and everyone else. However, Jude's reaction fails to resonate with me. It's too much, too severe, to make it seem believable. This is symptomatic of the book's major problem. It doesn't have a sense of subtlety or degrees: everything is black or white. Not to say that Hannah isn't good at creating a touching and absorbing story with engaging, impassioned characters. But I think it would be far more compelling if they displayed more nuance in their behavior, making them more three-dimensional because in real life, people aren't just one way or another. They are more complex and as such, act and react in their worlds with varying shades of strength, weakness, delight and sadness, love, hate and apathy.
I said in the beginning of my review this is a sweet story. It is. It has the requisite happy ending, as well. But there isn’t much complexity or depth and little realism. Part of the reason I wanted to review this book is because the back cover states “Kristin Hannah has made an emotional, artistic and literary leap with Night Road”. There are many emotional scenes in Night Road but I didn’t connect with the characters or the story.
Kristin Hannah has a website chock full of information!
Thank you to St, Martin’s Press for sending me an Arc copy of Night Road to read and review.