I was thrilled to receive a copy of Blind Turn from fellow WFWA member Cara Sue Achterberg. It was the perfect book to dive into on a cold weekend with nowhere to go (isn’t that every weekend lately? Never thought I’d actually miss those crazy weekends of kid sports and family commitments and birthday parties and errands that kept us going hither and yon, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose).
Liz Johnson is a single mom with a less than dependable ex-husband and a teenaged daughter, Jessica. Jess is an honor student and budding track star on tap to earn a scholarship and escape their small Texas town, a feat her mother was unable to achieve when she got pregnant with Jess in high school.
When Jess is involved in a fatal texting and driving accident that leaves the high school’s beloved football coach dead, her dreams of escape are replaced with the possibility of jail time and the burden of ending a life in an accident she can’t even remember.
While the legal battle wages, the public delivers its own guilty verdict, ostracizing Jess and Liz, jeopardizing Liz’s job, and sending Jess into a spiral of shame and despair. Jess and Liz navigate this rocky terrain with the help of Liz’s ex-husband, a lawyer Liz calls on for help, the high school guidance counselor, and a few unlikely new friends.
This story is all too real. I read as a mother of a teen who is yet to start driving, but who is often distracted from simple conversation by his devices, and immediately believed how quickly a mistake like this could happen. I could also relate to the struggle a mother would have to protect her child while also holding them accountable for their actions–a seemingly impossible balance in a situation like this.
What I loved about this book is that the characters in Blind Turn were all fully drawn no matter how much time they spent on the page. While small town characters in books can sometimes fall back on caricatures, this author does a wonderful job of portraying a unique, complex, and complete cast without relying on stereotypes or quirks simply for the purpose of being quirky. She also allows the characters to explore their own internal battles without sugar coating—Jess often considers self-harm while trying to come to grips with what she’s done in addition to the online and in person bullying she endures; and Liz confesses she’d take Jess across the border to Mexico before letting her daughter go to jail.
Ultimately, this is a story of accountability and forgiveness. Yes, we all make mistakes, whether that’s not using protection or taking our eyes off the road or not speaking to a loved one for years after a disagreement, but we must own our mistakes in order to forgive ourselves first before seeking amends, being able to forgive others, and being able to truly move on in a new direction.
So, does one mistake define us?
The book posits that they can, but they don’t have to. To tweak an old adage, it’s not whether you fall, but how you get back up that makes the difference.
Cara Sue Achterberg does a wonderful job of weaving two points of view throughout this story and creating multiple points of conflict between characters despite their common goals. I found myself hooked into their world and cheering for them all. A truly satisfying read and a wonderful book to spend curled up with on a winter weekend.
If you made it this far, I wanted to also spend a second to talk about how hard it has been for authors to launch books the last year. There are no more book events, no more booksellers able to talk up new titles to shoppers as we all rely on online orders and curbside pick-up, even from our local book shops. Marketing has become an extremely nebulous and onerous task for authors.
So what can you do to help? Did you read a book you liked recently? Review it! You don’t have to have a blog to do that. Leave a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. Engage with the author by following them on social media or signing up for their newsletter. Encourage your book club to select a favorite read, you might even reach out to the author to see if they will join your book club meeting via Zoom. It’s easier now than ever if your book club is already meeting virtually like mine is and some authors love it (don’t be offended if they turn you down, though. Writers tend to be an introverted bunch and some love public speaking more than others). Look for online author events as well. Many are still doing readings through local bookstore pages or on their own platforms. Engage, share, review! It’s easy and goes a long way to spreading the word about a book during a time when it’s hard for authors to get their books into the hands of new readers in the traditional ways.