Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Things We Didn’t Say
Edna Leigh Casey prefers to be known as simply “Casey.” Named for a great-aunt, Casey is, at twenty-six, too young to be known as Edna. She is also ten years younger than her fiancee, Michael, into whose home she moved when their relationship became serious. Within the span of a year of meeting Michael, Mallory took on the role of stepmother to his three children, Angel, Dyan, and Jewel. The transition has been difficult for all of them.
Casey feels like her relationship with Michael has come to revolve entirely around the children, for whom she bears the bulk of responsibility, and the household. Michael is facing the real possibility that he will lose his job as a newspaper reporter, given the dismal state of the industry. Mallory, an unstable addict, rarely abides by the visitation schedule, further complicating matters. The stress threatens Casey’s delicate grip on sobriety, especially in light of the fact that she has managed thus far to keep her past a secret from Michael.
It is all too much for Casey, who is about to leave Michael without a word, quietly slipping away while he is at work and the children are at school. But then the school calls to report that Dylan is absent and unaccounted for, even though Michael drove him to school that morning and watched him walk into the building. Suddenly, Casey cannot leave and finds herself drawn back into a family dynamic, including Mallory’s overbearing presence, that threatens to overwhelm her.
Author Kristina Riggle tells the story of a blended family trying to learn to live together from the perspective of the various characters, adopting their different voices in successive chapters. The result is a penetrating look at teen-age angst, parental guilt that leads to a hasty new relationship and abdication of responsibility, and a young woman’s desire to love and be loved in spite of her own troubled past.
Riggle hits just the right notes with her depictions of the resentful, jealous Angel who desperately needs the female role model and mentor that her mother can never be. Still, she cannot accept Casey’s new place within the family. She acts out as a result of her loyalty to her mother and acknowledgment that her father has chosen his own escape route. Dylan is a sulking, quiet teenager with a speech impediment that becomes more pronounced when he is under stress. Jewel, only eight, still cries for her mother and, although she is closer to Casey than the older children, wishes that things could be the way they used to be when her parents were together.
Michael feels his father’s disappointment in him acutely. A successful physician, his father has never approved of either Michael’s career choice or his marriage to Mallory. Michael has had to turn to his parents for assistance — financial and emotional — on more than one occasion and, in fact, lives in his childhood home which he shared with Mallory prior to their divorce. Michael has no awareness of appreciation of the anxiety and loneliness Casey has experienced.
The central character is this family drama is, of course, Casey, the young woman with a past about which she is very much ashamed, who has poured herself into her new family to the exclusion of everything else. Disrespected by Jewel, she has enjoyed some tender moments with Dylan and Angel, but those instances are not enough to sustain her when she feels abandoned and used by Michael. After all, she is the interloper in the eyes of the children and their mother, who has her own selfish agenda. Any woman who is a stepmother will empathize with Casey’s longing for the intimate, romantic relationship she had with Michael at the outset before the demands of another woman’s children and a household that does not feel like it is her own left her feeling isolated and confused, especially when Michael allows Mallory to stay with them as they search for Dylan.
Of course, none of the characters have shared their feelings with each other nor gained an appreciation of how the other family members perceive their place and role in the family. It takes Dylan’s disappearance for them to realize that in order for their family to survive, they must open up to each other.
Riggle explores what is means to be a family and the manner in which a failure to communicate with each other can have explosive consequences with sensitivity and compassion for her characters, none of whom are fully good or fully bad. Rather, each is flawed in his/her own fashion, and afraid of expressing their feelings for fear of being rejected. The plot is devoid of contrivances, particularly with regard to Dylan’s naive and potentially dangerous encounter with a teenage girl who turns out to bear no resemblance to her online self-portrayal.
Ultimately, Michael and Casey can no longer escape a searching examination of their relationship and determination of whether it can survive, and Michael must decide whether he can accommodate Casey’s needs while also living up to his responsibilities to his children. Readers will find themselves hoping that the characters find a way to remain together by dealing with each other in a more open, healthy manner. It is a compelling story of a quintessential American blended family that will both break readers’ hearts and cause them to cheer. I highly recommend
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Things We Didn’t Say free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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