Pediatrician Klass (The Mystery of Breathing, 2004, etc.) offers a mild, episodic novel about a tough but warmhearted pediatrician whose life as a doctor, wife and mother is informed by her own childhood in foster care.
Lucy and her English professor husband Greg are the doting suburban parents of socially astute ten-year-old Isabel and intellectually brilliant but socially awkward six-year-old Freddy. Lucy is fiercely protective of her children, particularly sensitive Freddy. But when she’s not driving Lucy to soccer or Freddy to birthday parties, she is running a clinic in Boston treating poor, neglected and abused children, many placed in foster care. Raised in the foster system herself until a favorite English teacher adopted her, Lucy strongly identifies with her patients and has difficulty separating her family life from her work. Instead of an evolving plot, there are slice-of-Lucy’s life incidents. Traveling to California to give a medical lecture, she becomes entangled with a 12-year-old boy whose braininess reminds her of Freddy and whose neglectful father reminds her that wealth does not ensure good parenting. On a family beach vacation, she obsesses about a news story concerning murdered kids in Boston. At her children’s private school, of which she is often wittily if self-righteously disdaining, a parent asks Lucy’s help in blocking a supposedly bogus abuse charge. A charming but irresponsible mother abandons her children at Lucy’s clinic, then briefly steals them back before willingly relinquishing them for good with Lucy’s guidance. Greg confesses a brief infidelity, only making the bonds of his marriage to Lucy stronger. Similarly, although Isabel gets mildly annoyed with Lucy at times, she and gentle genius Freddy prove to be the supersmart, superloving kids other parents don’t want to hear bragged about. Lucy, sometimes likable if overbearing, is a bit too perfect to connect to readers.
Klass plays it too safe here, with wise cracks and glib feel-good moments replacing real drama and self-exploration.