Book: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Contemporary Romance (Wikipedia called it Chick Lit…I have a love-hate relationship with that term…)

Preferred Reading Environment: At your favorite restaurant on the patio

Reading Accoutrements: Your favorite wine!

Content Notes: Parental/Spousal Abandonment, Divorce, Adultery, Traumatic Brain Injury, Suicidal Thoughts and Depression

Last time I browsed through potential reads in the Kindle store, I received notification of a new program called Amazon First Reads. Basically, they give you a discount on new release books in order to get people interested in them. The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms was on the list and it sounded intriguing, so I bought it.

Here’s the synopsis: Amy Byler is the school librarian for a small private school in Virginia and the mother of two. Her husband of twenty years left for a business trip to Hong Kong three years ago and decided not to come home. He took up with a younger woman and stopped providing any financial assistance to the family he left behind. So, Amy got a job at the expensive private school where her kids attend (for reduced-tuition now that she is part of the faculty) and started playing superwoman in her spare time. She fixes the issues that crop up in their more than 100 year old house, takes the kids to diving practice and chess tournaments, works full time, cooks dinner, and generally runs herself ragged to pay the bills and provide for her children.

Then, she runs into her ex-husband at the drugstore. He wants back into their lives, he says. He wants to spend time with the kids and try to make up for the mistakes he made. So, Amy plans a family dinner and lets her ex-husband reconnect with their children. When he suggests that he wants to take the kids for a week at the beginning of their summer vacation, Amy briefly resists before giving in to the inevitable. She decides to go to a librarian conference in New York City and revisit an old friend while she is there. The week goes so well that her kids and ex-husband decide to stay together for the whole summer. Amy, with nothing else to do, returns to New York to spend time with her friends and rediscover who she is – aside from being a kickass mom and ex-wife, of course.

The whole tone of the book reminded me a lot of college. I was an English Lit major and the writing style – straightforward with a hint of poeticism and a lot of banter – was reminiscent of pretty much every contemporary lit book I read as an undergrad. My professors loved that tone, so it was the style my classmates and I tended toward when we’d write short stories in our fiction writing classes. I guess that’s why I tended to feel out-of-sorts whenever Amy called herself old or mentioned that she was in her forties. Since the voice kept pulling me back to college, it was hard to associate the book with mid-life.

That effect might have been intentional on Harms’s part. The last time Amy felt like an individual was when she was in college – hanging out with her best friend in New York City, conning hotel clerks to let them sleep in the lobby and getting cute guys to buy them drinks while they danced the night away. Since Amy has returned to New York City and is crashing in the guest room of her best friend from college, she does tend to wish for her younger self back quite a bit at the beginning of the book. As the summer continues, Amy becomes more and more adventurous and learns that she can (and should) take time to care for herself so that she can take better care of her family, too.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is not the type of romance I usually go for; it has a lot of real life and I tend to read romances to escape. This book often had me laughing out loud, but it made me cry once or twice, as well. Amy flashes back to the days immediately following her husband abandoning them, how she worked really hard to make sure that her kids could stay in a familiar home and school and tried to help them with the grieving process, while at the same time ignoring her own emotions. The descriptions of her desolation and desperation were very real, but they were interspersed with moments of silliness and triumph, as well. What could be funnier than a former nun telling you to wait ten minutes so she could buy a designer handbag at a deeper discount on an auction site? I was amused and I appreciated that the emotional roller coaster was gentle.

My one complaint is more about  the stylized version of city life in this book. I guess I’ll never fit into a big city because I do not care for designer price tags, I have no interest in high-priced restaurants that give you servings the size of a quarter, and I will not pay exorbitant gym fees to have my butt kicked by a stationary bike. Basically, I am not one of the characters from Sex in the City and I’m okay with that. Amy, on the other hand, loves the upper-class city life. Her best friend from college is a magazine editor and lives in a loft in Brooklyn. They go shopping, eat at a bunch of posh restaurants, and generally spend time and money together. Occasionally, the characters got a little too pretentious for me. The only thing missing was someone saying, “It’s mah-velous, Dah-ling!” *shudders*

I surprised myself at how much I enjoyed Amy’s #momspringa (like a rumspringa, but for moms) and her journey of self discovery. It was really fun, even if it was a little too pretentious for my taste at times. If you’re feeling the feels (all of them) and want a book that will end on a high note, try this one.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book that isn’t your usual fair? Let us know in the comments!

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