GOING OVERBOARD chronicles the life of Sarah Smiley, a young Navy wife whose husband Dustin goes to sea for a longer-than-expected deployment once the war with Iraq begins. The daughter of an admiral, Sarah grew up in and around the Navy. She really thinks she knows what to expect from military life but feels ill-prepared for the many ups and downs she experiences while her husband is gone. She writes about her problems (real and imagined) and successes with disarming candor as she matures when he is away.
Dustin is a Navy pilot whom Sarah had known her entire life. As she is quick to point out, this doesn't make living together any easier. Often they seem out-of-synch, unable to communicate effectively with each other while living under the same roof. This lack of communication is only aggravated by Dustin's absences. When things get tough Sarah gets going --- to the comfort of a closet with her phone to call one of her good friends and discuss her problems.
Sarah writes with humor and unflinching honesty about being totally responsible for a two-year-old and a newborn. She feels like a single mother, even though she isn't. Dustin always took care of such things as mowing the lawn and balancing the checkbook, which Sarah now obsesses about. And she has a crush on her family doctor, an eligible bachelor, which leaves her by turns bewildered and excited, wondering if the doctor feels the same way about her.
While all of her friends are in France visiting their pilot husbands (she stays home because of her fear of flying), Sarah gets bitten on the leg by Courtney's cat. Since the cat had never been vaccinated, Sarah is informed that she may need a series of rabies shots. Being a bit of a hypochondriac anyway, this makes for a worrisome situation for Sarah, who doesn't even like cats to begin with.
Sarah shoots from the hip, lives in the moment, and is perplexed by her mother's listmaking and efficiency. Whenever Mom visits, Sarah reverts to being a needy child and is more than happy to let another adult take charge of the young children and the household.
Sarah's best friend moves out of her Florida neighborhood and clear across the country to California. Tanner, the much-loved dog Sarah grew up with, dies. The emails and phone calls to and from Dustin are less than satisfying, and she wonders where her marriage is headed.
Though she often feels like the Rock of Jell-O, Sarah is helpful and a good neighbor. She takes Melanie to the hospital and stays with her during a medical emergency and personal tragedy. She also takes in Melanie's daughter, Hannah, who is used to a very calm and orderly home environment. When Hannah asks why there are no vegetables on her dinner plate, Sarah realizes that not all families exist on hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.
People seem drawn to Sarah and willingly help her out. Her neighbor Brent mows the lawn without even being asked. Jody, Courtney and Melanie give her constant moral support, whether via late-night phone conversations or in person. Her frailties and quirks make her human and very likeable. Though her life seems to have a Lucy Ricardo quality about it, she is definitely the product of a younger, hipper generation.
Sarah writes a syndicated column about what she knows best --- life in and around the military. GOING OVERBOARD is her first book; hopefully there will be more to come.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 22, 2011