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book tour: The Gap Year by Sarah Bird + giveaway!

Author: Sarah Bird
Publisher: Knopf
Source: TLC Book Tours
hard cover: 320 pages

"foodie" elements:  yes (sparse)

random excerpt:  The cumin scent of body odor; the hot metal-and-grease smel of the iron wheels against the rails; a citrus aroma from the Berber grandmother sitting across from me feeding sections of blood orange to the three grandchildren crammed onto the seat next to her; the fragrance of mint tea and falafel from the vendors working their way through the car; and a whiff of cedar and rosemary from the arid plains and hillsides carried on the hot, dry air that blows against my face.

summary/synopsis: (from Goodreads) From the widely praised author of The Yokota Officers Club, a keenly felt, wonderfully written novel about love that can both bind family members together and make them free, set in that precarious moment before your child leaves home for college.

Cam Lightsey, lactation consultant, is a single mom, a suburban misfit who’s given up her rebel dreams to set her only child on an upward path.

Aubrey Lightsey, a pretty, shy girl who plays clarinet, is ready to explode from wanting her “real” life to begin.  When Aubrey meets Tyler Moldenhauer, football idol of students and teachers alike, the fuse is lit. Aubrey metastasizes into Cam’s worst teen nightmare: full of secrets and silences, uninterested in college. Worse, on the sly she’s in touch with her father, who left when she was two to join NEXT!—a celebrity-ridden cult—where he’s a headline grabber. As the novel unfolds—with emotional fireworks, humor, and edge-of-your-seat suspense—the dreams of daughter, mother, and father chart an inevitable, but perhaps not fatal, collision . . .

My Thoughts/Summary/Review: In truth, the main characters of this novel really grated on my nerves.  Mother versus teenage daughter at every turn...without a united front in site.  I found myself bothered by Cam's parenting technique.  Instead of encouraging her daughter to be who she was, she wanted her to be who she thought she should be.  Forcing "outcast" ideals is just as bad as forcing "jock and princess" ideals on a child.  No wonder Aubrey was so combative from the moment she realized that she was her own person.  Aubrey's inability to even try to express to her mother what was going on in her head was equally unnerving.  Bring Tyler home to meet your mom...give her a chance.  Grrrr...infuriating to me.  I am a daughter...and a I understand, but it was just so extreme that is was almost unbelievable.

I did, however, enjoy the supporting cast.  My favorite characters were Martin (estranged husband and father) and Tyler (boyfriend who isn't what he appears at first glance).  It seemed that the men were the only ones with the ability to bring out the good qualities in both women.  It seems that Cam was still holding on to the feeling of abandonment and desperation from Martin's departure from their lives.  And Tyler's dark past is what gives him the character than Cam never gives him credit for...because Aubrey doesn't give her the chance.

The few food scenes were (not surprisingly) my favorite passages in the book.  Aubrey refuses to confront her mother on the fact that she isn't ready for college.  At least not the one her mother forced her into applying to and therefore, gaining acceptance to.  She secretly forces her "Gap Year" upon her mother and expects her to freak out (which she does).  It's not until Cam gets a glimpse of Aubrey on the food truck that she realizes that her daughter's passion is not her own.  When pairing up with Martin to find Aubrey, it's the vivid descriptions of food that finally make me connect with this novel.  From the taco piled with Korean barbecue, napa cabbage, cilantro, and tomato to the "crepe stuffed with a mixture of caramelized onions, goat cheese, roast chicken, and tarragon", I wanted a food truck to roll up outside my front yard.  Bird finally hit it on the head when she wrote "I find it hard to hate a man who brings you exactly what you didn't even know you craved.  Food so good that it is impossible to worry while you eat."  Other than a very short excerpt in the front of the novel, I only had the final fifty pages to be delighted.  The rest was all leading up to the end.

So, while it's probably not something I will read over and over, it was worth the few days that it took me to read it.  Those who don't take a passage on the twenty-seventh page of the book as a sign of what's to come...are likely to really enjoy this book.  Sorry, it's the foodie in me.  You can't dangle food in my face....let me smell it...devour it with my eyes...and then take it away and expect me to be satisfied.

about the author:  Sarah Bird is the author of seven previous novels. She is a columnist for Texas Monthly and has contributed to many other magazines including O, The Oprah MagazineThe New York Times Magazine; Real Simple; and Good Housekeeping. Sarah, the 2010 Johnston Dobie Paisano Fellow, makes her empty nest in Austin, Texas.  Sarah on Facebook and Twitter.

*The Gap Year is featured in Good Housekeeping’s Summer Beach Reads 2011 and  Yahoo’s 10 Best Books for Summer!

The publisher has generously offered to send one of my readers a copy of The Gap Year.  To be entered to win a copy, simply leave a comment on this post telling me so.  Be sure that I have a way of contacting you, should you be the winner (link to website where I can find your info or an email address).  This giveaway is open only to those with mailing addresses in the USA or Canada.  Submissions will be accepted through September 1st, 2011 at 11:59 pm (Eastern), and winner picked by random draw.  Good Luck!

Update 1/2/11: Eight of the comments left wished to be entered into the giveaway.  Winner by random draw was:

*I received a free copy of this book to review from the publisher.  All thoughts and opinions stated in this post are 100% mine.
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