Which is tougher on a young girl — losing a father to death or losing a father to divorce? That is the question Meg Wilson of North Yarmouth explores in a new novel, “Crappy New Year.” And she explores it honestly and well. As humorist Elizabeth Peavey has observed, this is “a snappy, funny and insightful book for readers of all ages.”
Underline that word “insightful.” At the heart of Wilson’s story is Tess Louise Amory, a girl on the edge of high school whose stable life has been upended by the illness and death of her father, followed too quickly (for her) by her mother’s engagement to another man.
That man is Rob, president of the local hospital, and he is not a villain in this plot. Rather, he is a divorced father with a daughter similar in age to Tess. A good man with good intentions. Tess, however, resents him, and her resentment threatens the possibility that a new family can form and move on.
As far as Tess is concerned, the potential stepfather is unwelcome, and his daughter even more so. The stage is set for drama in the months leading up to the planned wedding.
Blending families is a tricky business even with the best will in the world on every side. In this case, however, Tess’ reluctance heightens the tension. And she is by no means alone.
Felicity, Rob’s young daughter, finds plenty in the coming changes that she opposes on her own. Rather than fostering cooperation, the two girls thwart the efforts by their parents to shape a new life. The nascent family bogs down in disappointment and dissent. And we’re left with the question, “How will the future be shaped by the past?”
No magic moment cuts through the turmoil. Tess and Felicity confront one another warily. Tess dismisses her stepsister-to-be as “Fishface.” She, in turn, is dissed as “Tesstube.” Both girls have to work toward new ways of regarding each other. Both have to find things in common that link them, rather than push them apart.
It isn’t easy, but slowly, both discover that it is doable. And the results can be a family well worth having.
With the strength they find together, Tess and Felicity confront the tensions that threaten them — resentment on Tess’ part at the changing faces in her family portrait and the unhappiness Felicity confronts as her divorced mother builds a life with a new family she can barely tolerate.
Meanwhile, the primary family, with Tess and Felicity at its core, struggle toward a future they can pursue with trust and high expectations. Change they see around them must translate into changes within themselves. Will it happen? Some, quite frankly, do better than others. To them belongs a new future. But new paths appear, and new choices get made.
It is life unfolding — and it makes for a very good read.
Nancy Grape writes book reviews for The Maine Sunday Telegram.