Sometimes you meet a book and shake its little hand, believing you’ve become acquainted with something sweet — delicate, maybe — and far from life changing. You’ll spend a little time with the novel, seeking diversion, but don’t expect much.
It’ll be a simple story. An easy story. And you venture along in your ignorant bliss, thinking you’ll wade into a warm batch of cotton candy . . . but when you surface 100 pages in, you realize it’s over. You were wrong. You’ve been sucked into a book so emotional and gut-wrenching and realistic and unique, the idea that you could have ever fancied it something innocuous is funny.
Meet Just Like Other Daughters by Colleen Faulkner, a book I picked up because it centered on a unique mother/daughter pair: Alicia, a single parent and college professor; and Chloe, her 25-year-old daughter. Her daughter with Down syndrome. Her daughter who has, against others’ wishes or desires, fallen in love.
Life has been pretty straightforward for Alicia and Chloe. After divorcing her husband, a womanizing fellow professor, Alicia plunges headfirst into her daughter’s care. Chloe grows up in a fairly traditional way, bonded by rituals and thick-as-thieves with her mom, and Alicia feels fortunate — incredibly fortunate — to be around for her daughter in the ways she needs. But as Chloe begins expressing more desire for autonomy, Alicia feels the tender threads binding them together starting to fray.
Enter Thomas. A handsome, mentally-disabled young man from the same classes she attends daily . . . a young man in love with Chloe. The first times they’re caught touching or kissing, Alicia brushes off the burgeoning relationship — even as Chloe asserts that Thomas has asked her to marry him. From a strict and religious household, Thomas’ parents intervene at the idea of the couple having a physical relationship outside the bonds of marriage.
And Alicia just doesn’t want to think about it.
Honestly, I could talk about Just Like Other Daughters all day . . . because there’s just so much to talk about. Once I started reading, I simply couldn’t stop. I was completely sucked into Alicia’s world, constantly empathizing with her and wondering how I would handle all the uncharted territory she must cross myself. Assertive but thoughtful, weak but strong, Alicia is the perfect mom — because she really cares. Would I make all the same choices, do all the same things? I don’t know. Maybe not . . . but maybe. Faulkner’s great ability to create such a sympathetic, realistic and painfully normal mom in Alicia is the story’s true strength. Because Alicia could be any of us.
As the novel progresses, my stomach started to hurt. Literally: it ached. Chloe, Alicia and Thomas are put into such crazy situations that are . . . actually completely ordinary. The book raises so many questions about what constitutes a happy, normal and fulfilling life for Chloe and Thomas, and I realized time and again that there are no easy answers. Nothing is as simple as a yes or a no, and that’s what made it so fascinating — and gut-wrenching — to read.
I didn’t know where the book was going, but a nervous sixth sense seemed to get it before my mind did. All I can say is that, by the conclusion, I was laying in bed wide-eyed in such shock that I couldn’t fall asleep. At 2 a.m. It’s been a long time since a book made me feel so many things at a single time, and I haven’t stopped thinking of it since.
The only thorn in my side? The story’s transitions to Chloe’s point of view. A few times throughout the book, the first-person narration switched from Alicia to her daughter — a choice I found unnecessary and distracting. Always in short bursts, Chloe’s portions really broke up the narrative. I didn’t need them to bond with her, to understand her; I already felt like I did.
But that’s a small complaint in an otherwise powerful story. Readers interested in mother/daughter stories, family relationships or just plain gripping novels will find a moving story in Just Like Other Daughters. It’s a quick read, but not one I’ll soon forget.
4.5 out of 5!