From the outside, Leah Thornton’s life seems picture-perfect: a beautiful home in an upscale Louisiana neighborhood, designer handbags, and enough money to buy virtually anything she wants. But upon closer inspection, Leah’s life is anything but perfect. In fact, it’s a mess.
The story begins with a bang when Leah has an epiphany in the frozen juice section of her local supermarket. She realizes she’s an alcoholic. This is confirmed the next day when she’s confronted by her best friend, Molly. Reluctantly yet resolutely, she decides to admit herself into rehab.
Her husband, Carl, doesn’t take the news well. Instead of being supportive, he tries to convince Leah that she does not have a drinking problem at all. It’s quickly evident that Carl is selfish, overbearing and controlling, and treats Leah as if she’s a child instead of his wife. Appearances mean everything to Carl, and having his “pretty little wife” in rehab will not look good, particularly to his mother and father, whose expectations he has been trying to live up to his entire life. But Leah stands up to Carl perhaps for the first time ever when she insists that she absolutely is an alcoholic and is determined to get help.
Once she is admitted into the Brookforest Center, Leah is finally forced to look at her life through sober eyes. Rehab is where the meat of the story takes place, as she is prompted to deal with a few things, such as childhood issues she thought she had long since forgotten, the pain of losing a child, and her own sexual inhibitions and insecurities. She slowly begins to view herself as more than just “Carl’s wife” or “a high school English teacher.” She learns steps to stop being a victim and start taking control of her life. Most of all, she figures out that running to God is much more effective than downing a six-pack of Miller Lite.
Author Christa Allan has a warm and charming writing style. Her word phrasing is fresh and witty, ironically “light” in tone for such a heavy read. Her insight into relationship issues and the motivations behind dependencies, particularly alcoholism, is outstanding. From the first page, when Leah stands in that frozen foods section of the grocery store, readers are instantly drawn in to the story, not because of events that are taking place, but because of the journey the character faces. Throughout Leah’s story, we can’t help but cheer as layer after layer of her personality is peeled away and the “real,” deeper Leah emerges.
This is also a spiritual journey. At the beginning of the book, Leah’s relationship with God is pretty much nonexistent, as she turned her heart away from God when He “allowed” her daughter to die before her very first birthday. This story takes a hard look at the death of a child and the aftermath that such a tragedy can produce. By book’s end, Leah is taking large strides towards rebuilding the rift between her and her Heavenly Father. The Christian aspect of the book is low-key, which is exactly what works. Anything more might have felt preachy, but Leah’s road back to Christ was natural and gratifying.
The supporting cast of characters is both memorable and well-crafted. From Leah’s and Carl’s dysfunctional family members, to Leah’s best friend Molly, to the wild and zany array of addicts and rehab staff, each one is distinct and brings a necessary element to the story. Even Carl, with all his flaws, isn’t completely unlikable, not an easy feat even for the most experienced author. This is a testimony to Allan’s expert ability to create three-dimensional characters with whom we can sympathize.
Although primarily character-driven, it’s worth mentioning that about two-thirds in, there is an unexpected twist in the plot, which adds even more charm and depth. The last page leaves the door open for a sequel. Even though the ending provides hope and satisfaction, this reviewer would very much welcome another episode of Leah and Carl’s story.
Almost unbelievably, WALKING ON BROKEN GLASS is Christa Allan’s debut novel, which means she has a lot to live up to with her next effort. But with her unmistakable talent, this likely will not be a problem.
Reviewed by Lynda Schab on November 13, 2011