Book Review: Once Upon a Time, There was You

OnceUponATime_2-16Once Upon a Time, There was You by Elizabeth Berg, is an engaging study of family dynamics, its humor, frustrations, scares, scars and secrets.

Even on their wedding day, John and Irene had serious reservations whether they were doing the right thing. But their plans were made and they did what was expected of them. Now divorced and living in different parts of the country, the one thing they have in common is their mutual love for their eighteen-year-old daughter, Sadie.

Sadie lives with her mother in San Francisco, John lives in their original home state, Minnesota. Four times a year Sadie visits her father, mostly in Minnesota, but sometimes he comes to California. She’s a bright girl, itching to be on her own. It’s late summer when the story takes place, and Sadie is looking forward to college and independence.

Irene passionately loves her daughter, knows it’s time to begin letting go, but is finding it hard to accept that Sadie will soon be on her own. The empty nest is looming, but she’s not ready to let it happen. John, as the absent parent, is seen at the “good guy,” someone Sadie can confide in, and sometimes Sadie can get him to intercede for her with her mother.

Sadie has a boyfriend, Ron, whom she’s dated on several occasions, but hasn’t yet introduced to her mother. She’s asked her mother’s permission to go on a rock climb, but with no success. Rock climbing isn’t something Irene could imagine anyone doing and she can’t fathom why Sadie would want to do such a dangerous thing. At Sadie’s request, John talks to Irene, who reluctantly gives in. Sadie has actually made other plans, the rock climb is a ruse, but her clandestine plan backfires. When tragedy strikes, Irene and John come together to support Sadie.

Author Elizabeth Berg’s character development is superb. Like them or not, her characters ring true, flaws and all. The story is a portrayal of love: love between man and woman, love toward their child, and the sometimes spotty love a child has for her parents. The novel is a realistic look at the pains and perils of raising a child in today’s world of broken relationships.