They could be twins, the sure-?footed teenagers at the heart of these two novels, with their layers of secondhand clothes, hair tangled wildly atop their heads — Rosie’s ”secured with pencils, silver clasps, porcelain chopsticks,” Ruby’s ”big wavy mass” pulled back with the odd ribbon. They like to write. They have bad taste in boyfriends. And their mothers, it seems, are spectacularly stupid.
Anna Quindlen likes to tackle hot-button social issues in her novels, and Every Last One is no exception. Ruby tries to convince her mother, Mary Beth, that longtime boyfriend Kiernan has begun to suffocate her: He’s always stopping by, bringing her gifts, filling her voicemail, snapping ? pictures of her from afar. But no matter how dark and unsettling his behavior gets, Mary Beth never responds to her daughter’s concerns. ”He’s just lost, sweetie,” she tells her daughter. (Earth to Mom: The guy’s a creepy stalker!) Ruby rings true on the page, quirky and vibrant, but Mary Beth? Show me a mom who’d blithely ignore her daughter’s psycho boyfriend. Me, I would have gotten an order of protection for my kid like that.
Imperfect Birds has the opposite problem. At first, it seems Anne Lamott, always a lovely writer, has nailed adolescent bluster and swagger. But once Rosie — smart, wild — starts to grapple with addiction, she becomes almost a caricature of the Troubled Teen. On the other hand, her mother, Elizabeth, is painfully recognizable, the sort of parent who constantly justifies her child’s behavior, seemingly unable to accept the truth even when it is smack-dab in front of her. (Finding pills in her daughter’s jeans, she thinks, ”Maybe there was a reasonable explanation.”) Still, anyone looking for a novel about fractured family and addiction would do better to pick up Roxana Robinson’s Cost.
Bottom line here? Fans of Quindlen and Lamott may want to give these two a skip. Every Last One: C Imperfect Birds: C