Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker

Joanie is nearly fifty, divorced and navigating the work world for the first time in years. Her fifteen year old daughter Caroline is surly, sarcastic, unappreciative, and dealing with all the terrible emotional baggage of being socially awkward in high school. Her ex-husband and his very young girlfriend are expecting a baby, yes the very same ex-husband who left her because he didn't want any commitments. And as if that wasn't enough to deal with, Joanie's mother Ivy has moved in with her now that the recession has depleted almost all of the careful savings she and her late husband had socked away. While Joanie wrestles with feeling like a dinosaur at the advertising agency where she's working and the stress of being a charter member of the sandwich generation, Ivy sinks into depression, feeling as if she's nothing but a burden on the daughter who she never loved quite as much as she loved her son, and Caroline suffers from unrequited love and the feeling of invisibility at school.

Narrated in turns by all three women, Pennebaker has captured three very different life stages with humor and understanding. Joanie, Ivy, and Caroline are facing monumental life changes and so they are perhaps having more than a little trouble focusing on anyone outside of themselves but they are all so interconnected that they must rub along together as best they can. Joanie still harbors anger at the fact that her brother was always the favored child, even now when he has not taken their mother in. Caroline is certain that her mother could never have any conception of how dismal her teenaged existence is so she is as uncommunicative as it is possible to be. Ivy knows that she has undervalued her daughter but can't help wishing that Joanie conformed more to what she, Ivy, wanted. The complex and tangled relationships between the characters show the exasperation, frustration, and (in some cases grudging) love between mothers and daughters, especially those forced by circumstance to live under the same small, too intimate roof.

Each of the characters comes off as a pitch perfect representative of her generation and stage in life. They seem like people we know in our everyday life or hear about from friends discussing their teenager's behaviour or their aging parent's gradual diminishment. Perhaps they are even us. Their myopic blindness about what is most vital in each others' lives is sad but Pennebaker has managed to temper that sadness and inability to see with great moments of humor. This is a quick, satisfying read and while I found the ending to be a bit abrupt, over all it was an entertaining book.

Enjoy the book trailer below:

For more information about Ruth Pennebaker and the book, be sure to visit her website.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the author for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to review my novel. -- Ruth Pennebaker

  2. Capturing the diverse experiences of young, middle age, and senior women and translating that into a readable and entertaining novel is quite an accomplishment - I'm so glad that this book was a success for you!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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