Author: Samantha Wilde
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source: e-ARC received via NetGalley for an honest review
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
Nora and Annie have been best friends since kindergarten. Nora, a shy English teacher at a quaint New England boarding school, longs to have a baby. Annie, an outspoken stay-at-home mother of two, longs for one day of peace and quiet (not to mention more money and some free time). Despite their very different lives, nothing can come between them—until Cynthia Cypress arrives on campus.
Cynthia has it all: brains, beauty, impeccable style, and a gorgeous husband (who happens to be Nora’s ex). When Cynthia eagerly befriends Nora, Annie’s oldest friendship is tested. Now, each woman must wrestle the green-eyed demon of envy and, in the process, confront imperfect, mixed-up family histories they don’t want to repeat. Amid the hilarious and harried straits of friendship, marriage, and parenthood, the women may discover that the greenest grass is right beneath their feet.
As I mentioned in my Monday post, I love me some mommy fiction. Motherhood is in a unique zip code of Crazy-Town that has a very specific set of worries, rewards, and neuroses. Women's fiction novels that deal in this area are, admittedly, targeting a very specific audience, but I think that audience is often eager to see their daily joys and sorrows brought to life on the page.
Hence my excitement for this novel. As it opened, I found myself enamored with the two main characters, Nora and Annie. The chapters alternate between their points-of-view. Nora is desperate for a baby, and has been trying to conceive for nearly a year with her husband Alfie. Her best friend Annie, on the other hand, has two "oopsie" babies (very fertile, she is) and stays at home to care for them. She's convinced that she's meant to stay at home, and not work...or is she?
Right away, I was struck by how vividly and humorously Wilde was able to write about Nora and Annie's opposing struggles. From Nora's frantic ovulation charting, to Annie's hectic diffusion of toddler tantrums, she had me laughing and sympathizing with both of them. I was impressed by the wide array of mothering issues that were touched upon in the novel, and in a way that will leave mom-readers nodding and smiling as they go. Plus, Wilde's writing style is such that she often purposely leaves you hanging with certain conversations and details, which is a great way to keep you interested from chapter to chapter.
However, in the end I felt rather lukewarm about this book. Why? Well, outside of the clarity with which the motherhood issues were illustrated, the rest of the book felt a little shallow. Take, for instance, Cynthia Cypress--the new friend of Nora's that is mentioned in the book description. She plays a fairly large role in the plot, but her character is annoyingly flat and one-sided. For someone who has such an emotional impact on the protagonists, we learn very little about Cynthia by the end of the novel. At first, I thought this was an attempt to shroud her in mystery, but the "reveal" about her at the end was underwhelming, and didn't seem to warrant her lack of development throughout the book.
I felt similarly about the plot action as a whole. Its movement was very slow, and often anticlimactic. I found that, by the conclusion, I didn't have much emotion towards how everything wrapped up. It was rather a feeling of, "...that's it?" Much like with Cynthia's character, the major plot events were not built up enough throughout the novel, which makes the ending feel bland. There is also a lot of repetition in the novel, best illustrated by the constant use of the phrase "I'll take what she has" (or some variation) in the character's conversations. This constant use of the title became grating after a while, even though the message it attempts to convey is a good one (the grass is not always greener on the other side).
Final verdict? This book is a perfect illustration of a 3-star Goodreads review. There were a lot of things I loved: the motherhood anecdotes, the humor, the jumping POV between characters, the underlying message. However, there were a lot of weaknesses in the foundational parts of the book: plot and character development. In the end, this one was middle-of-the-road for me.
Other reviews of I'll Take What She Has:
5 Minutes For Books
Life, Army Wife Style