Author: Julie Lawson Timmer
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Group Putnam
First Published: June 7, 2016
First Line: "Char slumped low in the pew, fretting about the casket."
Book Description from GoodReads: When Char Hawthorn's husband dies unexpectedly, she is left questioning everything she once knew to be true: from the cozy small town life they built together to her relationship with her stepdaughter, who is suddenly not bound to Char in any real way. Untethered explores what bonds truly form a family and how, sometimes, love knows no bounds.
Char Hawthorn, college professor, wife and stepmother to a spirited fifteen-year-old daughter, loves her family and the joyful rhythms of work and parenting. But when her husband dies in a car accident, the “step” in Char’s title suddenly matters a great deal. In the eyes of the law, all rights to daughter Allie belong to Lindy, Allie’s self-absorbed biological mother, who wants the girl to move to her home in California.
While Allie begins to struggle in school and tensions mount between her and Char, Allie’s connection to young Morgan, a ten-year-old-girl she tutors, seems to keep her grounded. But then Morgan, who was adopted out of foster care, suddenly disappears, and Char is left to wonder about a possible future without Allie and what to do about Morgan, a child caught up in a terrible crack in the system.
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
My Review: I had read Julie Timmer Lawson's first book, Five Days Left, about a year and a half ago and simply adored it. I have my coveted author signed copy in a place of distinction on my bookshelves. I consider it a 'Five Hanky Read' and I continue to regularly recommend it to people but always start off by asking 'How do you feel about crying while reading a book?'. Yup, it was a heart wrenching read and I waxed poetic about it while eagerly anticipating her next novel.
In her second novel, Untethered, Lawson Timmer focuses on several different issues that have great emotional impact: step-parenting, adoption, special needs children, foster care, family bonds - blood and otherwise - and even self-harm. While the author juggled these heavy and emotional family issues, the story lines were easy to follow and the characters were easy to keep straight.
That said, even though it was easy to follow I think there was a little too much going on. These are important issues to bring to light but I didn't feel like some issues got enough page time for the reader to really get invested in the plot and characters. I would have liked to have had more time to delve into some of these issues, namely the step-parenting role which can be fraught with emotions and power struggles as well as the inner thoughts of the troubled ten-year-old girl who was truly the most untethered of the bunch.
The characters were varied but some felt a little one-dimensional (like Lindy, Allie's bio mom) and I think that was because the vast majority of the plot centred around Char's plight as the step-parent trying to hold things together. I could get behind Char as a main character even though her indecision regarding her step-daughter Allie was at times quite frustrating. But, on the other hand, with the complexity of the step-parent role (and Lindy's personality) I also understood why she was hesitant to make her own desires known and stand up for what she wanted.
Overall, this was a good read that shows the intricate balance of a non-traditional, yet highly common, family of step-parents and step-children. While it wasn't the emotional roller coaster that I was expecting, I applaud Timmer Lawson for bringing to light a few issues that I had never thought about, namely the lack of legal rights of a step-parent and the issue of adoptive parents changing their minds. I have a new respect and deeper understanding of step-parents and the possible complications of being part of a new family even though they aren't recognized as a legal parent. This book is about non-traditional family bonds and how well they weather through the storm when they are put to the test.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group Putnam for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.