Our Short History : A Novel

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      “Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's bigger—and stronger—than before.” —Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You How can a woman learn to let go of the people she loves the most? Karen Neulander, a successful New York political consultant and single mother, has always been fiercely protective of her son, Jacob, now six. She's had to be: when Jacob's father, Dave, found out Karen was pregnant and made it clear that fatherhood wasn't in his plans, Karen walked out of the relationship, never telling Dave her intention was to raise their child alone. But now Jake is asking to meet his dad, and with good reason: Karen is dying. When she finally calls her ex, she's shocked to find Dave ecstatic about the son he never knew he had. First, he can't meet Jake fast enough, and then he can't seem to leave him alone. Karen quickly grows anxious as she watches Dave insinuate himself into Jake's life just as her own strength and hold on Jake grow more tenuous. As she struggles to play out her last days in the “right” way for Jake, Karen wrestles with the knowledge that the only thing she cannot bring herself to do for her son—let his father become a permanent part of his life—is the thing he needs from her the most. With heart-wrenching poignancy, unexpected wit, and mordant humor, Lauren Grodstein has created an unforgettable story about parenthood, sacrifice, and life itself.
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Booklist Reviews 2017 March #1

*Starred Review* Karen Neulander wasn't afraid of much, until she had to call her ex-boyfriend, Dave, to tell him about Jake, the six-year-old son he didn't know she'd had. Adding to this emotional chaos, Karen is a survivor of ovarian cancer and has no idea how long her current period of remission will last. A custody arrangement for Jake has already been planned out in the event of Karen's death, but she can't shake the feeling that Dave will try to interfere. In the face of so much turmoil, Karen decides to keep a written record of Jake's life to pass down to him after her death, and her journal, entitled "Our Short History," is that effort, composed of Karen's innermost thoughts, memories of Jake's first six years, and her dreams for his future. The novel's creative structure feels incredibly personal, since Karen isn't afraid to editorialize. Grodstein manages to walk the fine line between pathos and melodrama by painting Karen as a fully realized mother, sister, and friend, never allowing the cancer to consume her complex identity. Fans of Camille Pagán's Life and Other Near-Death Experiences (2015) will love Karen's unflinchingly honest journey. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

LJ Reviews 2017 February #1

Karen Neulander is writing what no mother wants to give to her child: the story of their life together, to be read when he's an adult. Karen has Stage IV ovarian cancer, with a possibility of two years to live. She'll never get to see her six-year-old son, Jacob, go to college, or play sports, or marry. As a single mother, it's always been the two of them against the world. She's made plans for him to live with her sister's family after her death. Then Jacob asks to meet his father. When Dave learned Karen was pregnant, he insisted he didn't want to be a father and even questioned whether the baby was his. But now he's eager to meet his son, and Jacob and Dave bond immediately. Now, on top of her guilt, anger, and grief, Karen faces a new emotion: fear that her ex will take Jacob since she is dying. VERDICT Grodstein's (The Explanation for Everything) heartbreaking, character-driven story is told in the remarkable, believable voice of a courageous, sympathetic character. Recommended for readers of Jodi Picoult, Lisa Genova, or Sally Hepworth's The Mother's Promise.—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN

Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

PW Reviews 2017 January #5

Karen Neulander has a rotten deal. Diagnosed with stage-IV ovarian cancer, she tries to manage her health—surgeries and treatments to prolong her life—as well as her career—political consultant to a philandering New York City councilman running for reelection. Most important is her six-year-old son, Jake. While Jake knows she has a terminal illness, Karen fiercely protects his world and pens a book for him—the very book we are reading, in fact—so that she can leave him something tangible as a guide for his life without her. Knowing she won't be around forever, Jake suddenly wants to find his father, Dave, the love of Karen's life, who ditched her when he learned she was pregnant. Grodstein (A Friend of the Family) deftly explores family relationships, but the device of Karen writing a book for her son is cumbersome and artificial. The power of the book is also undermined by the sentimental circumstances and predictable ending: will Karen let Dave, who has changed and is eager to have a meaningful relationship with the son he never knew he had, be a part of her son's future without her? (Mar.)

Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.