Author: Ellen Shanman
Publisher: Bantam Discovery
Releasing: July 29, 2008
With wry humor and complex characterization, Ellen Shanman tells a stellar story of an intelligent woman who doesn’t know how to be herself.
Mike is not your normal everyday woman. She’s distant, she doesn't flirt, she doesn't tolerate fools and she doesn't know how to be social, particularly with other women. She doesn't play on her considerable looks or beauty, hates the attention it garners her and is almost mannish in her dress and address. Looking back, a reader should hate her. That instead they fall in love with this spunky tomboy of a woman is a tribute to Shanman's writing.
As the story unfolds, Shanman reveals how Mike's social awkwardness is directly related to her upbringing by a clueless Doctor Dad, whose own grief at his wife’s passing keeps him from ever truly connecting with his only daughter. Young Mike in turn absorbs the distancing behavior she’s faced with and makes it her own. And yet when she sees her Dad becoming human again thanks to the new woman in his life, a grown-up Mike doesn’t know what to make of it. All of a sudden, both her personal and professional lives are in total crisis. Her career’s gone kaput and due to a distressing lack of funds, she’s forced to move back in with her dad. Worst of all, Mike doesn’t know how to help herself and get out of this rut.
Her awkwardness with other women is put to severe test when her new job as a substitute teacher leads her to teach a life skills class (which is essentially Home Economics disguised under a fancy new title) to young girls. Instead of teaching them to bake cookies, Mike decides to take the Life Skills title seriously and teaches them real life lessons such as subway etiquette, dealing with unwanted flirtation and other “important” issues. This end result is at once truly hilarious, yet touching. And it’s one of the highlights of this story. There are also various other side characters with bisecting and sometimes charming stories of their own.
Shanman slowly but surely humanizes Mike until she comes to the devastating self-realization that she’s sabotaged all the important relationships in her life. She grows up ultimately but by then she’s almost lost Gunther, an Aussie reporter who has long put his own career on hold just to be near Mike in the hopes that one day she’ll love him as he loves her. This is one part of the story that I just did not get. I understood how Gunther felt, sympathized with his plight and his unrequited love. But I never felt that Mike had any real romantic feelings for Gunther and that their getting together in the end was largely to achieve a happily-ever-after ending, rather than anything real. Shanman brings it about gradually, yet not convincingly enough for me.
This story is Mike’s journey of self-realization, of maturing from an overgrown tomboy to a secure young woman finally at peace with herself and the world, knowing her place in it and at last having connected with the people who truly matter. The end result is tender, overall funny, interesting and very appealing.
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