Okay, imagine if Jennifer Aniston had quit Friends at the height of its—and her—popularity.
Now give her a 16-year-old daughter and a drinking problem.
Robin Palmer’s The Corner of Bitter and Sweet opens at 4:15 a.m. on Mother’s Day with Annabeth Jackson sitting in the Santa Monica Police Station after her celebrity mother is picked up driving the wrong way down the Pacific Coast Highway with a blood alcohol level three times higher than the legal limit.
Shortly thereafter, Janie Jackson enters rehab. Which, for Annabeth, is excruciatingly embarrassing, as it is covered extensively in the tabloids. At the same time, it’s a huge relief: For the past six years, Annabeth has had to live with the terror caused by her mother’s addiction—using a mirror to be sure she’s passed out, rather than dead, is a weekly occurrence—as well as constantly trying to keep Janie from bingeing, and, when that’s impossible, trying to hide the truth from the world.
In a way, The Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an issue novel: It takes a problem—in this case, parental addiction—and it walks the heroine and, in turn, the reader, through the steps of working through said problem. Annabeth flashes back to the time before her mother’s problem became public, but the majority of the book focuses on her experiences throughout her mother’s recovery, and more importantly, it focuses on how their relationship changes and strengthens throughout the process. Which is why, although it has the bones of an issue novel, I wouldn’t call it one: the real focus is on the people, not the problem.
It’s not a super-realistic, nitty-gritty look at alcoholism: While Annabeth and Janie very definitely live through tough times before the book’s opening scene, post-rehab, it’s mostly smooth sailing. In other words, Janie doesn’t relapse. She’s difficult, and she and Annabeth have a lot of re-adjusting and learning to do...but, in terms of the former, that’s Janie, and in terms of the latter, that’s life. As a story about addiction, The Corner of Bitter and Sweet reads more like Meg Cabot—minus any real slapstick or farce—than K.L. Going or Laurie Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins.
And there’s nothing wrong with that! The characters are hugely likable—even Janie, who is AMAZINGLY self-absorbed, yet totally charismatic and charming—the emotions ring true, and the Hollywood setting and discussion of celebrity add an interesting layer to an otherwise run-of-the-mill plotline. Also? While there are two romance storylines, neither has the heart of the book: that belongs to the mother-daughter relationship. There’s never any doubt as to how much the two of them love each other.
The pop culture references will date it in a few years, but at the moment, they’re hilarious: I’d like a boyfriend who looks like Ryan Gosling but has the personality of Jesse Eisenberg because Ryan Gosling is too cool and would intimidate me.
Overall? Thumbs up. It’s certainly the cutest book I’ve ever read about addiction. I had my doubts about Palmer writing something OTHER than another fairy tale rewrite, but this one totally won me over.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.