Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Book Review: The Girlfriend Mom

By Jami Deise

Most authors begin their books with several pages of praise from fellow writers. Author Dani Alpert starts her memoir, The Girlfriend Mom, the same way, but she follows this up with a few pages of rejection notes the book received. As a fellow writer who has received the exact same feedback, I already loved Dani before reading a single page of her prose. Her “this is me, warts and all” attitude carries on throughout the entire book.

A screenwriter and performer, Dani knew from an early age that she had no desire to become a mother. But when she meets Julian, a divorced father of two, she falls fast and hard. Soon her weekends morph from parties in New York City hot spots to Chuck E. Cheese in New Jersey. Even though Julian only has the kids every other weekend, he warns Dani that he, thirteen-year-old Nicole and nine-year-old Tyler are a package deal. When she moves in with Julian, she becomes not a stepmom, but a girlfriend mom.

What’s the difference between a stepmom and a girlfriend mom? In the beginning, Dani takes some pains to remain separate from Julian’s kids—she’s not a babysitter or a chauffeur. But when she moves in with Julian, that becomes harder. She’s a writer and she needs her own space and privacy, and that’s not possible with two children who are accustomed to having their parents at their beck and call. Over the years, though, Dani becomes attached to them, cheering at their games while avoiding Julian’s ex-wife, Marie.

And then Julian dumps her. As the “girlfriend mom,” Dani has no rights or obligations to Nicole and Tyler at all. But she loves them just the same, and her heart breaks over not seeing them.

The Girlfriend Mom reads more like a series of essays than a memoir with a strong narrative and structure. Dani is open about embarrassing episodes in her girlfriend-parenting life, such as Tyler going through her nightstand and finding her vibrator, and her annoyance at Nicole wanting to decorate her room in Julian’s new house to her own taste. She fleshes out some of the anecdotes by adding stories about her own childhood, which sometimes muddies the tale she’s telling. As a divorced parent myself, Dani’s early attitude reminded me why most divorced parents prefer to date other parents—non-parents often just don’t “get it.”

While the book’s summary emphasizes what happens after Julian breaks up with Dani (for a natural blonde, no less!), that plot point doesn’t happen until the book is three-fourths complete. And honestly, while the stories about Tyler’s soccer games were funny, I was most interested in how Dani kept up her relationship with the kids after the break-up. That was the most compelling part of the book—especially because she needed to develop a relationship with Marie in order to make it happen. I was disappointed that the biggest hook of the story only made up a quarter of the book.

It’s inspiring that Dani was able to develop such a strong relationship with these young people outside of their respective relationships with Julian. And her friendship with Marie was heartwarming as well. I hope Dani also finds a man who is worthy of her. The stories told throughout The Girlfriend Mom shows that Julian never was.

Thanks to Books Forward for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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