At that ominous mid-life juncture, 45-year-old native Californian Kathleen Salerno responds with what she hopes is selfless, optimistic enthusiasm to her husband Tony's announcement of his three-month stint in Wellington, New Zealand, working as a film editor at Jackamond Studios. Realizing that this is Tony's big career break, how can Kathleen say no? Especially since their daughter is in college, and this mid-life mom realizes she can use a jump into the unknown...or down under. Sadly, real life rarely falls in line with one's preconceptions and dreamy illusions, which Kathleen discovers immediately after landing in the country recently renowned for hobbits and assorted other worldly inhabitants.
Checking out their miniscule bungalow-style house, Kathleen spies some jumbo-sized men's briefs, displayed in all their glory on a drying rack within the confines of her new bathroom. Making light of this surprising addition to their compact living quarters, Kathleen soon realizes that for the next three months she'll be going without a clothes dryer, a car, Cheerios, or a friend to share a bowl over. By the second week of self-pity, she experiences an epiphany-like moment by way of a bike, her husband's concern, and a question. Kathleen, understandably overwhelmed by "primitive" life in New Zealand, realizes Tony's past sacrifices on her behalf --- and suddenly longs to give back to him the gift of contentment in spite of herself. With obvious relief, Tony heads back to his day job and Kathleen makes it her task to find the gumption within to make the most of this temporary jaunt into understanding her uncharacteristically hesitant mindset.
With thoughts of lovely chocolate invading her awakening subconscious, Kathleen ventures beyond the local grocery to a coffee shop named The Chocolate Fish, where she is initiated into the charming local custom of doing something well in exchange for a chocolate fish, a four-inch long marshmallow sweet treat that has Kathleen smiling despite herself. When good things occur, the space is often small between them...and in Kathleen's case this truism is no exception.
While she sits sipping her mocha, Kathleen greets and meets another Californian native, Jill, with whom she shares the same hometown, two orange trees, and best of all, renewed hope. Jill and the newly dubbed Kathy become soul mates from the get-go and traverse the city, the country, and even Australia during Kathleen's stay. During their wanderings both women unveil their hearts and fears, and learn to accept their ever-altering life transitions, secure that God's love is guiding their steps. Each friend offers something the other has need of, perspective and a gentle generosity of spirit.
By the end of the allotted three months down under, Kathleen is surprised how grievous she feels to leave her newly adopted home. Yet, through the lessons she gleans from her New Zealand friends, her realization of life's constant change, and a subtle yet powerful shift in her spirit, Kathleen understands that no matter where she finds her home, those she loves remain with her --- and there's no better comfort than this.
Robin Jones Gunn makes traversing mid-life seem almost welcoming, because she has that rare gift of communicating hope amidst trial and inner chaos. Not one to shirk the need for self-assessment, this author has found an effective mode of gently lending some instruction to women who sometimes feel overwrought and undone by life's unexpected curves. Women and older teens will relish this newest installment in Gunn's Sisterchicks series. Who says growing older can't be fun if you have a friend to share the journey?
Reviewed by Michele Howe on March 31, 2005