Noah is six years old, and small for his age, in part due to the fact that he has celiac disease, an autoimmune deficiency. Noah is painfully aware that he is not good at sports, and he really doesn’t have any friends at his exclusive, private school, Fenwick, on the posh west side of Los Angeles. Noah complains to his mother that the coach made his physical education class spend an entire period running up and down the school’s stairs, and when he tried to convince the coach that he could run no longer, the coach refused to let him rest. So he relates how he crawled up and down the stairs while the bigger, strong boys kicked him — with the coach’s tacit approval.
Noah’s mother, Rickie, feels that she must address this latest indignation suffered by her son. Rickie is 25 years old, single, and living with her parents, sleeping in the bedroom she slept in while growing up. Noah sleeps on the bottom mattress of the trundle bed her mother bought Rickie when she was a girl. Rickie and her half-sister, Melanie, both attended Fenwick, and her parents are paying Noah’s tuition. Rickie does not have a job, but dabbles at furthering her own education, sporadically enrolling in, but not focusing upon, college courses.
Melanie has also moved back home, after discovering that her husband, Gabriel, was unfaithful. But rather than disrupt their two children’s lives, she and Gabriel take turns living in their home with the kids for week-long intervals. When Gabriel is with the children, Melanie occupies her old bedroom and tries to keep busy until she is reunited with her kids — who also attend Fenwick.
Rickie’s wardrobe consists of worn-out jeans, t-shirts, and Converse sneakers, accented by various tattoos, as well as nose and eyebrow piercings. Her hair is usually pulled up into a sloppy ponytail and in perpetual need of a color touch-up. Rickie isn’t dating anyone special, but has a secret friend-with-benefits: Ryan, Gabriel’s brother, with whom she hooks up when he briefly returns home from months-long business trips.
But Rickie is overwhelmed by her life: Motherhood is daunting and she frequently acquiesces to Noah’s demands and whining, rather than hold a firm line. She appreciates her parents’ financial and emotional support, but can’t resist lobbing snarky comebacks when her mother tries to offer advice or guidance. And she has made no effort to set up play dates for Noah with the other children or get acquainted with the mothers of Noah’s classmates, all of whom seem to be at least several years older than her, and blond clones of each other who are extremely curious about the scruffy, young tattooed mother of their children’s classmate.
So when Rickie’s mother, who is a member of the Fenwick Board of Directors, flatly refuses to intercede with the school principal, Nickie finds herself back at her alma mater in the principal’s office, face to face with Coach Andrew Fulton. Although she doesn’t realize it at that moment, neither her life nor Noah’s will ever be the same again.
If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now is populated with characters who could be your neighbors, your family members . . . or you. They are utterly believable, natural, and as exasperatingly endearing as your own relatives. Rickie, Melanie, Noah, and the rest of their family are all well-meaning, truly good people trying to find answers to perplexing questions and navigate the challenges their lives have presented them. They snap at and criticize each other, but there is never any doubt that they are family, inextricably bound together no matter what.
Rickie loves Noah more than anyone or anything in her life, but constantly feels that she sucks as a mother. She forgets to pick Noah up from school, and neglects to make him a gluten-free pizza in plenty of time for him to enjoy dinner with his cousins who do not have special dietary needs. Noah bemoans his mother’s failure to have his meal ready when the other kids’ food is being served, reminding her that she “always does this” and, as a result, he is once again not like the other kids. Rickie can’t argue with him.
Rickie’s lack of attention to her own appearance, as well as her failure to formulate and work toward specific educational and career goals, are a reflection of her inner turmoil. Being a grown-up, especially one responsible for a little person as needy as Noah, is, for Rickie, exhausting and frustrating. She wants nothing more than for Noah to have friends and fit in with the other kids at school, but doesn’t have a clue about how to help him be more confident, assertive, and accomplished — because she has not resolved those same issues for herself.
Coach Andrew turns out to be more than just a gorgeous jock with an equally stunning girlfriend. Although he and Rickie get off to a very difficult start in the principal’s office, Andrew’s genuine interest in Noah allows Rickie to gradually let down her defenses and accept his gracious offer to privately coach Noah every Sunday morning. When Andrew cleverly devises other ways for Noah to succeed at school — and even become somewhat popular — Rickie begins to wonder why she did not notice from the outset how attractive Andrew actually is. But there is the matter of his long-time girlfriend . . . and Andrew can’t even seem to remember her name, habitually referring to her as “Noah’s mother.” Rickie can’t believe that he might truly be interested in her, even when his behavior hints that he might want to be more than Noah’s coach and mentor.
LaZebnik expertly evokes intense emotions from her reader as the story unfolds. Adorable little Noah will break your heart, especially if, like me, you are a mother who has sat in the stands and prayed for your child’s modest success on the field — not a home run, just not a strike-out with the bases loaded! You’ll cheer with Rickie and her mother, and hold your breath along with them, while Noah swings the bat and . . . You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.
Rickie’s self-effacing commentary will ring true with readers who have found themselves asking similar question and making comparable mistakes as parents, and women with sisters will relate to Rickie’s complicated and somewhat conflicted relationship with Melanie.
Andrew is perhaps the most intriguing character of all. Anything but a stereotypical jock, Andrew is slowly revealed by LaZebnik to be a deep thinker who deliberates before making decisions, truly cares about his students and their families, and earnestly believes that he has happened upon a profession that suits him. Whether or not it suits his publicist girlfriend is another matter, however. LaZebnik’s cleverly timed revelation of Andrew as a surprisingly complex character will remind you why your mother cautioned you to “never judge a book by its cover.”
If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now is a thoroughly charming tale about an authentically-crafted family of believable characters told at an easy pace that feels realistic and probable. There are no villains in this story, no conflicts of epic proportions, no headline-grabbing heroes. But there are definitely conflicts and traumas with which average readers can relate, and by the time you turn the last page, you might just believe in heroes, too.
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