Tilly Farmer has the perfect life. The life she always wanted. The life she deserves after so much sadness and having to grow up too fast as the family caretaker and surrogate mother. At least she thinks it's the perfect life. She's married to her high school sweetheart, living in the town where she grew up, and is the guidance counselor at the local high school. She and her husband are finally trying to have a baby, she is excited about finding the perfect prom theme (An Evening in Paris), and she's putting on the school musical (Grease), the same one from her senior year. Everything is going right. Until it isn't anymore. Tilly goes to the local fair and wanders into the fortune teller's tent. There she discovers an old friend who offers her the "gift of clarity" without telling Tilly anything of the future. That is for Tilly to discover herself as she starts having visions after this encounter. And they aren't visions she wants to live out but she doesn't have a choice. They are her future: her father falling off the wagon and descending back into alcoholism, her husband leaving to pursue the life he has sacrificed for her, and so many other things she never planned.
Tilly is an endearing character. She's been a rock and a Pollyanna for much of her life and she is much younger emotionally than her years. This book is really a sort of coming of age for her despite the fact that she is in her thirties. It is a lesson in tapping into her emotions and really learning to feel and to accept. It's not a comfortable lesson for her by any stretch of the imagination and she wonders who she is becoming as her less pleasant feelings, long tamped down and ignored, roil to the surface. But this change and growth make her a delightfully well-rounded character. If she had stayed the perpetually upbeat woman who never really progressed beyond her high school persona, she would have been irritating as all get out and the reader wouldn't have had any sympathy as she had to face the world and life in all its messy, often times terrible, glory.
With a main character who has sort of lost herself along the way, refusing to see her husband's feelings of stagnation, being annoyed with her younger sister for not treading the path Tilly had mapped out for her, mothering her father, and generally being relentlessly cheerful in turning a blind eye, this will appeal to fans of chick lit without following the traditional chick lit plot arc. As it is, Tilly has discovered that the accusation she flung at her retreating husband, that he didn't know what happiness is, is becoming less true of herself as she faces the newly forged path that is her life. She is indeed learning about happiness and not mistaking the safe and unexamined status quo for this most precious of feelings. Even though the lesson Tilly learns sounds heavy, this is a good, fun, light, beachy read for the summer.
Since the book is sprinkled with references to Grease songs and other music, I asked if Allison would come up with a playlist for her life as it is very clear that music is incredibly important to her. Here is what she had to say:
Playlist of my life:
High school: One song is too hard to pick, so I’ll go with a mix of Rod Stewart’s Forever Young, which reminds me of just, well, being carefree and happy and looking forward to all that life was going to bring; Babe by Styx, which was my song with my high school boyfriend; and Teach Your Children Well by Crosby, Stills and Nash, because my senior year, we were really into CSN, and I can just picture driving around in my car with my friends or hanging out on my school’s quad, listening to this...feeling cooler than I’m sure we were.
College: Again, impossible to narrow it down to just one. The Samples’ Little Silver Ring really encapsulates that time for me though – it’s tender, aching, hopeful, and makes me viscerally miss those years. I’d be remiss not to add in something like OPP and Like a Prayer, which I spent hours upon hours upon hours dancing to in my then-boyfriend’s fraternity’s basement.
The middle years: I spent my early and mid-20s like a lot of people, really trying to get a handle on who I was and who I wanted to be, so it’s probably no surprise that the music that reminds me of those days echoes the same themes: Torn by Natalie Imbuglia, Needs by Collective Soul, A Murder of One by Counting Crowes, Learning to Fly by Tom Petty, and Never Die Young by James Taylor. There are about a million others but those jump out at me right away.
Wedding: I secretly learned to play the guitar and sang Cowboy Take Me Away by the Dixie Chicks at the reception. So that’s a biggie, and our first dance was to When You Say Nothing At All – there are a lot of versions out there but Alison Krauss and Ronan Keating do nice ones.
Parenting/Grown-Up Life: my kids and I listen to A LOT of music together, everything from The Killers (nothing made me prouder than when I realized my son knew all the lyrics to Human and Read My Mind) to Beyonce (my 3 yo is obsessed with Single Ladies). But we used to – and sometimes still do – have endless dance parties and the songs that would always be requested were and are Life is a Highway by Rascal Flatts and the Long Way Round, again by the Dixie Chicks. Both songs make me pretty happy, to be honest, (yes, I realize one is from Cars, sue me), and remind me of the joy my kids have and the joy they bring me.
Here's hoping she has loads of happy, upbeat songs to sing and dance to in her future.
For more information about Allison, check out her author website and don't forget to buy the book.
Thanks to Crystal at BookSparks PR for sending me a copy of the book for review.