Just 18 Summers
By Rene Gutteridge & Michelle Cox
Published by Tyndall
375 Pages

Back Cover: Winner of the 2014 CLASS Reunion Kudos Book Award, fiction category.

After the tragic death of Butch Browning’s wife, Jenny, four families begin to realize how precious—and fleeting—their time together is. Each is at a different stage in life: Butch is facing single parenthood. The O’Reillys are expecting their first child. The Andersons are approaching an empty nest, and the Buckleys are so focused on providing their children with everything that they’ve forgotten what they truly need. With just eighteen summers before their children are grown, how do they make the most of that time when life so often gets in the way?

As summer flies by, each of these parents must learn about guilt and grace . . . and when to hold on to their kids and when to let go.

REVIEW: What first grabbed my attention was the cover of this book.  Then I looked to see who wrote the book; Rene Gutteridge. That sealed the deal for me. I had to buy this book. Rene Gutteridge is one of my top favorite authors. I was glad to be introduced to Michelle Cox whose screen play will soon be made into a movie.

I got more than I expected inside this amazing novel. It reminded me of an old movie Steve Martin was in called Parenthood. That movie showed a few families at different seasons of parenting; from expecting their first to the teenage years and how they were handling it.

This book is similar in that respect. The major difference is the spiritual thread that is naturally woven into this story. It gives this novel a powerful punch (not in a preachy way) but in a way that is a game changer in the family dynamic.

Butch has recently lost his wife, Beth. Now he’s left to raise their 8 year old daughter by himself. He felt as if they were strangers. Beth made their relationship work. What did he know about girl stuff? He was floundering. He talks to his friend and co-worker Tippy.

“There was no purpose to this movie (My Little Pony’s - Ava keeps wanting to watch) other than to sell glitter pony dolls.”…Butch sighed. “But Ava loves it….. I think I’m going to rent some WWI and WWII DVD’s. She needs to know about Winston Churchill … Is Shindler’s List too hard to follow for her age?”

Tippy looks at Butch, “Probably too disturbing…You’re probably right…She just needs to know that there are no Glitter ponies, and I don’t think she knows that at eight.”

“How am I going to raise this kid Tippy?”….”We have nothing in common, and what about when she starts asking about…you know….underwear stuff?”

“Get a book. They got a book on everything. Daphne bought about 50 books on pregnancy and child care…She’s making me read them all. I won’t lie to you- it makes Glitter Ponies sound appealing. Right now I’m on a chapter that describes bowel movements and when you should be alarmed by them. I can’t admit to Daphne that all poop, no matter the color, alarms me.”

Butch groaned, “I’m not walking into a store and get a book about children’s underwear. They’ll put me on a watch list.”

I loved every second of this novel. It’s honest, funny and at times filled with heart piercing tender moments that made my eyes tear up and my throat choke up. I liked what Rene Gutteridge said about writing this book from Michelle Cox’s screen play. She says, “Every moment that I invested in this project was a moment that I also invested in my kids, because with every page I learned something about them, something about me, or something about my family. I saw myself as a mom through the eyes of each of the characters – my strengths, my flaws, my good intentions gone bad, and my deep love for my kids.” Amen to that Rene. Amen!

Beth, Butch’s sister-in-law has struggles of her own. She misses her sister, she was her biggest cheerleader. She goes to talk to her husband with tears in her eyes, “It’s such a sobering thing to realize you can’t get time back. It’s gone before you even know it came…” Their son has just graduated high school and their daughter is about to get married.

Helen, Beth’s next door neighbor goes to see Dr. Reynolds because of her rebellions teenager. The Dr. says to Helen…,”you can’t fix other people. You can only fix how you view them, the lens by which you see them. You can pray for your children, guide them. But you can’t fix them.”

“Helen yanked her purse off the ground as she stood. “You, Sir, should stick to counseling botched surgery victims. What you’re saying is absolute nonsense. Of course I’m supposed to fix her! That’s my job. You come out of the womb completely confused and who is to set you straight if not for your parents? Answer me that.” Then she stormed out.

This story is written through different characters eyes. Each chapter is clearly marked so you know who was speaking and what their view on parenting is. The blend of perspectives made for a moving read. This story packs a powerful punch, will grab your heart, make you think; you’ll laugh out-loud and cry. Several times I laughed so loud my family wanted to know what was going on. I shared; they laughed too!

No matter what season of parenting you are in – parenthood is a blessing. One character says to another just beginning their journey, “You don’t know it yet, but you’ll love in a way you didn’t know you were capable of.” So, true.

This is a thought-provoking read; you’ll want to read over and over again. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time. It does a great job at capturing family life with the struggles all parents face; the joys and the changes. Balancing the demands of life with the desire to spend quality time with our children and spouses is difficult. I highly recommend this book for your next book club pick. Rene and Michelle hit this one out of the park. This novel is a keeper and one you’ll be sharing with friends and anyone who will listen about the great book you just finished!

Nora St Laurent
TBCN Where Book Fun Begins
The Book Club Network Blog
Book Fun Magazine


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