Cam Lightsey is a single mom who works as a lactation consultant. She has been raising daughter Aubrey alone since her ex, Martin, an attorney, left her to join a Scientology-like cult called Next! where he protects high profile Hollywood Nextarians. Aubrey was only two when Martin left and has no memories of him but she's now having conversations with him on Facebook behind her mother's back. While Cam ignores Aubrey's growing apathy to college, Aubrey is making her own plans for her future, ones that include her boyfriend, the high school football star, Tyler Moldenhauer. The disconnect between this mother and daughter, who were once so close, silently grows.
Narrated by both Cam and by Aubrey, the timelines of their narration are completely different. Cam tells of the present, the summer after Aubrey's graduation, as alone, she buys all of the things that she imagines Aubrey will need once she boards that plane for college. Aubrey, meanwhile narrates the fall prior to this post-high school summer, when she gives up band and falls for Tyler, and in the process drastically changes who she's always been. In each of their narratives, it is possible to see all the places that things have gone wrong between mother and daughter.
Cam wonders if Aubrey's life would have taken the path that she, Cam, wanted had Martin been present in their lives or if they had not moved to the suburbs to send Aubrey to better schools or even if she had just insisted that Aubrey see a doctor after suffering heat exhuastion at band boot camp. Bird has done a fanastic job of capturing the insecurities of a mother second-guessing herself, only wanting her daughter to succeed and to have the life that Cam has sacrificed so much to provide. That Aubrey wants a different life is what Cam is having such a difficult time seeing and accepting with grace.
Aubrey, who was once so open with her mother, retreated, withheld, and turned sullen her final year in school seemingly inexplicably and so Cam blames this transformation on boyfriend Tyler. In fact, Aubrey's narration shows that her withdrawal from her mother is simply a growing up and growing into adulthood. The only way that she feels that she can do that is by becoming secretive and breaking the bond she and Cam have shared for so long. This is, of course, not the only route to adulthood, but it is such a common one because the self-centeredness of teens makes them believe that their parent(s) will accept their self-sufficiency, personal choices, and change no other way. Again, Bird has captured this beautifully.
While the main narrative about the growing, yawning gap between Cam and Aubrey is very well done, the secondary characters are little more than shadows. Even Aubrey's boyfriend Tyler, whose revelations to Aubrey about his past are seminal to the story, is little more than a place holder. Cam's ex and Aubrey's father never quite develops beyond the wishy-washy picture-less Facebook writer, certainly not to the point that it is understandable why Cam still carries a torch for him all these years after his abandonment. But these characters are truly secondary to the main thrust of the novel, which Bird does get right.
A very readable, enjoyable novel about communication, misunderstanding, letting go, and growing up, this would be a perfect book for those taking a child off to school for the first time. A reminder that our children's lives are not our own and that they will forge their own path as adults, this is funny, heatbreaking, and poignant in equal measure. Sarah Bird has delivered a bittersweet page-turner that will leave you sympathizing with both Cam and Aubrey as they each face a new chapter in life.
The Gap Year is featured in Good Housekeeping's Summer Beach Reads 2011 and on Yahoo's 10 Best Books for Summer.
For more information about Sarah Bird and the book visit her webpage, her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.
Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.