When the book opens, Jiselle Dorn is trying to make the best of her newly married life. She quit her job as a flight attendant to help look after her handsome, charming pilot husband's children and things are not going as well as might be hoped. Mark is gone all of the time. Her stepdaughters are hostile (one openly and one only in private). And the US outside the Dorn family's log cabin is facing a growing epidemic of the Phoenix flu. When Mark is detained and quarantined in Germany for an indeterminate amount of time, Jiselle and his children are left to get along as best they can amid growing concerns beyond their control and despite their own uneasy relationships with each other.
Set in the near future, one that could become all too real, the story alternates between the characters' present and Jiselle and Mark's short courtship. As Jiselle learns to navigate this new life she chose despite her mother's warnings that it was too soon, she comes to understand a lot about herself and to truly care for those around her, even when the world as she knows it appears to be ending.
Jiselle has truly been dropped into something that is completely foreign to her. And Mark hasn't helped, not sharing vital bits of information about his late wife, their family, and even worse, hasn't understood the complete strangeness of the situation for her or tried to make things easy for her either with the children or through his own attempt at understanding. She is a tentative character but the reader can see her grow and become more confident as she comes to a detente with her teenaged step-daughters and as the youngest and only boy, Sam, offers his loyalty.
The other characters aren't as well-fleshed out as Jiselle is but then this is mainly a story about her. We only see Mark through Jiselle's remembrances of him before they married and through his exasperation in responding to Jiselle's concerns once he is stuck in Germany. And we see the girls and Sam solely through their reactions to Jiselle, definitely a kinder, caring stepmother who really does make an effort.
Throughout the story, as the Phoenix flu epidemic comes closer and closer, the tone of the story is one of muted menace. Kasischke builds the tension within the Dorn marriage and in the country as a whole slowly and deliberately, reeling the reader in for the ride. She leaves traces of the growing threat throughout the novel but it is only as the reader comes to the end that all of the clues add up and become clear. For all the danger of the flu epidemic, it is the insight into marriage and familial relationships that really shines through in this novel. Kasischke has created an engrossing tale, tinged with the fear of being open to other people and the threats they carry. Definitely recommended.
Author Laura Kasischke will be at the following bookstores this month if any of you are in the area and want to stop in and say hello:
10/14 Birmingham, MI Borders
10/15 Novi, MI Borders
10/21 Milwaukee, WI Next Chapter Bookshop
10/22 Minneapolis, MN Magers & Quinn
10/27 St. Joseph, MI Forever Books
10/29 Chicago, IL Book Cellar
11/3 Ann Arbor, MI Borders
Laura Kasischke's author bio can be found here.
Visit other blogs on the tour to see their reviews of the book:
Monday, October 12th – Starting Fresh
Thursday, October 15th – Book Club Classics!
Monday, October 19th – A Reader’s Respite
Friday, October 23rd – The Book Nest
Monday, October 26th – Galleysmith
Thursday, October 29th – A High and Hidden Place
Monday, November 2nd – Word Lily
Tuesday, November 3rd – Books on the Brain
Thursday, November 5th – Write Meg
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for sending me a review copy of the book.