Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: The Resurrection of Tess Blessing

By Jami Deise

Like no other generation, modern parents are expected to put their children before anything else. While members of Generation X were dubbed “latchkey kids” because they went home to empty houses as mothers entered the workforce in droves, their children are enrolled in numerous sports, arts classes and other enrichment activities after school. And their parents are supposed to drop everything to attend their children’s basketball games, art shows, school Halloween parades, and Fiddler on the Roof productions. We do their homework with them and sacrifice our own social lives to facilitate theirs. We even use their photos as our Facebook profile pictures!

For all this, is the next generation any more grateful to their parents than those who were left alone watching He-Man cartoons? Of course not.

Tess Blessing is definitely a modern parent. Although her children, college freshman Haddie and high school junior Henry, are past the age where they need a mommy to wipe their butts, she still puts their needs first, and is devastated when they blow her off. Haddie, who has a serious eating order, is particularly hard to reach, and Tess blames herself for not letting her quit college when Haddie got homesick. Even her husband Will, who runs a diner in their postcard small town of Ruby Falls, takes Tess completely for granted.

This is hard enough for Tess to begin with, as she suffers from such a severe panic disorder, she’s limited to the parameters of their small town. But when Tess’ mammogram shows a lump in her breast, her first instinct is to protect her children. She can’t tell Haddie because of her eating disorder, and Henry’s too young. Will is worried, but pre-occupied with the diner and maybe his old girlfriend Connie. Tess’ sister Birdie hasn’t spoken to her in years.

Luckily, Tess has Grace, who is the actual narrator of the book. Who is Grace? Grace is Tess’ imaginary friend. And she’s there during Tess’ most difficult times, and helps her through them.

Written by Lesley Kagen, The Resurrection of Tess Blessing is hard to classify. Although the book doesn’t take place in the south, it has a southern feel that reminded me of books like The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Tess has a tragic backstory, feeling responsible for her father’s death when she was 10, and having been raised by a verbally abusive mother. There’s humor, and Grace certainly loves Tess dearly. But Tess is such a damaged character, it’s difficult for the reader to identify with her. Still, she’s a character who presses on, even coming up with a to-do list in light of her maybe impending death from breast cancer. (Item #1: Buy more broccoli.)

Personally, I found the narration by Grace to be a little off-putting, although she is responsible for some of the southern flavor. Tess’ favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and she carries a copy around with her as a talisman, constantly reading from it in moments of stress. Tess modeled Grace on Scout’s African-American nanny, and she does come across that way. But because the story is a first person narration from Grace’s point of view, the reader never gets inside Tess’ head – we only get Grace’s description of what’s in there.

The Resurrection of Tess Blessing should appeal to readers of Jodi Picoult – especially readers who don’t think Picoult’s protagonists have enough drama in their lives. I felt overwhelmed by everything Tess had to deal with; others may feel inspired.

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Lesley Kagen:

1 comment:

Janine said...

Great review. Thanks for the recommendation.