(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Despite her vow never to be like her bitter, alcoholic mother, Mattie Wallace has pretty much become her mini-me. Newly homeless, she's got all of her earthly possessions stuffed into a half dozen trash bags in the back of her mom's ancient Chevy Malibu. With nothing in her wallet, but a definite something growing in her womb, Mattie's reached an all-time low. At least her mom—who's been dead for five years—isn't around to say, "I told you so." Although Mattie's aging stepfather is willing to take her in, she can't bear for him to see how badly she's screwed up this time. It's just as well, then, that he has news—Mattie's grandmother has died, leaving a possible inheritance for her next of kin. Mattie never knew her mother's mother, but she's not opposed to taking whatever money the woman left behind. With nothing to keep her in the Florida Panhandle, Mattie high-tails it to little Gandy, Oklahoma, hoping to leave with some cold, hard cash.
The good news: Mattie has inherited her mother's family home. The bad: she can't take possession of it for several months. With the Malibu out of commission, she's stuck in Gandy until she can find the money to get it repaired. A kind paralegal allows her to squat in her grandmother's house, but that only solves one of Mattie's problems. As she tries to straighten out her many dilemmas, Mattie settles into the rhythm of life in Gandy. Thanks to the quirky townspeople, her days are filled with plenty of drama and entertainment. Still, the only story she really wants told is that of her mother. Why did Genie Wallace, a pretty young woman with a bright future, suddenly up and leave Gandy? Why did she never return? How did the popular, well-loved Genie turn into the broken, boozed-up woman who raised Mattie?
With more questions than answers, Mattie determines to shake the truth about her mother out of the reticent Gandy-ans. Considering how shaky her relationship with Genie was, Mattie's surprised by how much she wants to know who her mother really was. But how many people will she have to hurt in order to get the real story? And what does it matter, after all, when the real problem is what to do about Mattie's own downward spiral? As Mattie unearths clues about her family's past, she finds shocking revelations—astonishing truths that might be the keys to salvaging her own future.
As you probably know by now, I'm a sucker for a good homecoming/family secrets story. The Art of Crash Landing, a debut novel by Melissa DeCarlo, certainly fits the bill, although it's a far cry from the Kate Morton-ish fare I usually read. Feisty Mattie is the kind of irascible character that shouldn't be as likable as she is. Still, her wicked sense of humor; her bold, reckless personality; and her refusal to back down make her a fun heroine. Her pain, so authentic and raw, makes her sympathetic. I couldn't help but love her. Mattie's madcap adventures made me laugh, while her family mystery made me race through the pages, eager to see how the puzzle pieces all fit together. Although our heroine (anti-heroine?) is undeniably hilarious, The Art of Crash Landing isn't a light, fun kind of novel. Not by a long shot. It's a sad, poignant read, but one that manages to be both real and hopeful. Despite the excessive profanity and other R-rated bits, I surprised myself by enjoying this novel quite thoroughly.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for strong language, sexual content, violence, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Art of Crash Landing from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at TLC Book Tours. Thank you!