Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: The Baby Planner by Josie Brown

Adding a baby to a family is a huge decision composed of big decisions and small ones too. Some people enjoy the small stuff: decorating the nursery, having a baby shower, deciding which baby products are necessary and safe, etc. But some people are overwhelmed by the decisions or want guidance and that's where someone like the fictional Katie Johnson in Josie Brown's novel The Baby Planner comes in.

When Katie's department is slashed during state budget cuts, she loses her job as an advocate for consumer public saftey so she turns her attention to helping one of her sisters prepare for her second baby. What Katie would really like though, is to get pregnant herself. Unfortunately her husband Alex, who hasn't seen his son by his first wife in years, is unwilling to have a baby. While shopping with her sister, another woman looks at the material Katie's pulled together, wanting the same help for herself and voila, Katie's new job as a baby planner is born.

As Katie develops her business and starts spending all her time around pregnant women and one widowed, single dad, her desire for a baby grows impossibly stronger. And her husband continues to sidestep any discussion of starting their own family. Several of Katie's clients become friends and she ably shepherds them through great joy and great grief while sharing only bits and pieces of her own increasingly conflicted personal life with them.

Katie as a character is enthusiastic, optimistic, and charming. When she addresses the reader directly, what could have felt like a break in the narration feels more like a response in a cozy, chatty conversation. She is completely endearing although she is amazingly blind to a situation that is immediately clear to the reader. She does react strangely, and a tad out of character, to one bit of unexpected news given her previous reliance on family. The other characters are more of an ensemble supporting cast and most recognizable through their quirks and foibles, the high powered lawyer only having a baby because her husband wants one, the Senator's wife who needs to pander to his constituents' views, the sad mom-to-be who doesn't want to lose another baby to miscarriage and won't believe in this baby until she has him in her arms, and the single mom whose other half is Mr. Wrong. But all of these women, and indeed the other characters, are immediately recognizable and different, allowing Katie's character, through her interactions with them, to show fully.

The plot here is uncomplicated and straightforward despite the numerous characters. It doesn't cover new ground and occasionally wanders into terribly predictable territory but the unusual career of baby planning and Katie's friendly character help to alleviate this a bit although I have to admit I was disappointed with two of the most predictable instances. The novel comes across as a very beachy, fluffy read but still tackles some pretty weighty topics: secrets, love, what defines a family, marriage and the decisions made between husbands and wives, genetics and all the things that medicine still doesn't know or understand being just a few. Book clubs wanting a have an accessible but still discussable book during the lazy summer months would find this a good option.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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