Kristin Hannah has often explored the perilous terrain of motherhood, but never has navigating that landscape seemed as treacherous as in NIGHT ROAD, her most sophisticated and emotionally intense novel to date.
Jude Farraday loves her two children equally, of course. They're twins who adore each other and share a deep emotional bond. But they're also as different as two siblings can be. Zach is the golden boy at school, the handsome athlete always surrounded by dozens of pretty girls who always gets invited to every party. Mia is the shy wallflower, the aspiring actress who shuns the limelight except when she's playing a character.
"[R]eading NIGHT ROAD [is] a powerfully emotional journey that will leave readers reflecting on their own roles as mothers, daughters, sisters and friends."
Ever since she quit her high-powered job to care for her children full-time, Jude has prided herself on striking the right balance. She remains fully involved in her children's schoolwork, social life and extracurricular activities, but allows them enough freedom to become their own individuals. She's finding this balance increasingly difficult to achieve as her kids enter high school, start going to parties --- and develop a friendship with Lexi Baill.
Lexi is a long-time foster kid who has finally found a home with her great-aunt. With her thrift-store clothes and trailer park address, Lexi seems to come from a different world than the Farradays. But she and Mia become fast friends almost immediately, and their unlikely friendship buoys up Jude's shy daughter, giving her the confidence only Zach has given her before. Lexi assures Jude that she won't break Mia's heart by using her to get to her handsome brother (it's happened before). But as Lexi becomes closer and closer to the Farraday family, she finds it harder and harder to keep her promise.
When tragedy strikes just before high school graduation, the Farraday family --- not to mention Lexi's fragile connection with them --- is ripped apart. There's more than enough blame to go around, but as time passes and they all threaten to harm the next generation by making the same mistakes, they must make new choices and try to recapture what's been lost.
In NIGHT ROAD, Kristin Hannah sets herself a challenging task. The novel is simultaneously a love story, a book about siblings, and a story about several sets of mothers and daughters. It spans 10 tumultuous years, a decade that seems like a lifetime for her characters but that will breeze by in a rush of emotions for her readers. She also crafts two equally compelling heroines: Jude, who must redefine what it means to be a good mother, and Lexi, who must learn to trust that she won't just relive past patterns. At times, Hannah's male characters pale in comparison to these vibrant female protagonists, lacking their complexity and realistic depth.
Chances are, though, that most of her readers will relate powerfully with Jude or Lexi --- or both. This makes the experience of reading NIGHT ROAD a powerfully emotional journey that will leave readers reflecting on their own roles as mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 28, 2011