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Are We There Yet?


Are We There Yet?

From Kathleen West, the author of MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES, comes ARE WE THERE YET?, a drama-filled novel about three families stuck navigating the ins, outs and unbelievable aspects of middle school and middle age.

Alice Sullivan finally has parenting, marriage and her career figured out. Her children, preteen Teddy and second-grader Adrian, are both happy and bright; she and her husband, Patrick, are still going strong; and she has just booked partner-making coverage for her design firm in Elle magazine, right on the tails of taking on a high-profile client. Even better, when life throws a tiny curveball her way, she has her best friends, Meredith and Nadia --- both mothers of her son’s classmates --- to help her talk things over with wine and laughter.

"You’ll come for the eye-rolling 'I can’t believe she did that' drama, but you’ll stay for the believably unbelievable dysfunction, the genuine characters, and the reminder that --- whether you are in middle school, middle-aged or middle of the road --- we’re all in this together."

But after a cheery coffee date with Nadia one morning, Alice learns that her daughter is not reading at the appropriate level. To make matters worse, her son has been struggling with junior high friendships and has resorted to bullying. As Alice races to and from her children’s schools, she misses an important client meeting, calling into question her priorities at work. How did she not notice her kids falling behind and getting into trouble? And, more importantly, how will she pull her family together, especially with the other moms watching, judging and posting about every mishap on the NextDoor app?

As Alice’s well-maintained life begins to crumble, we hear from the children at the heart of the issue: Teddy, who has started a rivalry with Tane, a former outcast turned teenage heartthrob, and Meredith’s daughter Sadie, whose crush on Tane has thrown her friendship with Teddy into a tailspin. As the kids take questionable photos, post them to their Finstas --- that’s “Fake Instagrams” for those of you who aren’t raising teenagers --- and elude their parents’ careful phone monitoring, a very public feud between Teddy and Tane emerges, and everyone at Elm Creek Junior High is taking sides. With their jabs and betrayals leading the drama, their parents’ relationships start to crumble as well.

Rounding out Alice’s midlife crisis is her mother, Evelyn, who has a secret all her own: she has recently reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption at 19. As a therapist and generally well-rounded person, Evelyn knows she cannot keep this news from Alice forever. Still, as she watches Alice lose control over her life, she knows she cannot add to the drama. But as the teens, parents and grandparents of Elm Creek are about to find out, nothing stays hidden for very long --- not Finstas, crushes or even secret daughters.

As the dramas play out at school, on apps and in homes, Kathleen West alternates chapters between the perspectives of Alice, Meredith, Teddy, Evelyn, Sadie, Nadia and Tane, exposing their sides of the story, as well as their individual motivations and judgments. Each character is fully realized and perfectly flawed, and I have no doubt that every reader will find someone to root for (I’m totally #TeamSadie for what it’s worth). Rife with misunderstandings, back-stabbings and plenty of heated gossip, ARE WE THERE YET? is both sharply observed and surprisingly heartfelt, not to mention hilarious at just the right times. From graffiti featuring hot pink genitalia (or “rocket ships,” as one naive mom claims) to juvenile pranks and outlandish outbursts, West’s keen examinations of parenting, social media and teenage life are perfectly balanced by a warm wit that keeps her narrative sincere and oh so relatable.

For a novel as steeped in social media hazards as this one, I love that West never completely vilifies apps like Instagram and Snapchat, noting that it is just as important to protect your child as it is to make sure that they are not missing important friendship interactions. More to the point, West often pokes fun at the parents in her book, never completely mocking them, but reminding her readers that we all feel in over our heads at certain points, and that sometimes it means more to talk to a fellow mom than to read a book about what the “perfect” parent might do. Her portrayal of the dangers of social media is sharp and clear-eyed, but also nuanced and forgiving. Who among us hasn’t stayed up all night Facebook-stalking an ex or posting too many poorly captioned Instagram photos?

Be warned that there are a lot of characters here. Rather than trying to keep them separate, I went all in and assumed that the book would take me where I needed to be. Though the drama moves fast, West is careful enough in her characterizations that you’ll have no trouble following along after a few chapters or so. You’ll come for the eye-rolling “I can’t believe she did that” drama, but you’ll stay for the believably unbelievable dysfunction, the genuine characters, and the reminder that --- whether you are in middle school, middle-aged or middle of the road --- we’re all in this together.

Perfect for readers of Emma Straub, Meg Mitchell Moore and Joshilyn Jackson, ARE WE THERE YET? is progressive, engaging and downright fun.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 19, 2021

Are We There Yet?
by Kathleen West

  • Publication Date: February 8, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0593098447
  • ISBN-13: 9780593098448