Justine Cantrell is a mother, a proud mother to Abby, Ben and Tallulah. She is also a wife, a happy wife to Matt Cantrell. But for now, Justine wants to be who she was before she stepped into that murky and risk-laden world of marriage and motherhood. She wants to be Justine McQuillan all over again. She’ll take little Lula with her, too. From Chippingly Vale in the UK, she’ll go over to her mother Camilla’s place at Lake Maxinkuckee, in Culver, Indiana, in the US. She wants to start a new life there, a new life surrounded by her brother, Rob, and her old friends, Sallie-Jo and Cheryl. This might bring her security and a peace of mind, but what about the answers to her problems?
Justine’s adult life is narrated in a dual timeline in this novel. The story shifts from the present day, which takes place in Culver, and Justine’s past back in Chippingly Vale, with her husband and three children. The first time Justine’s life darkened was when her young son Ben fell of a tree and injured his head. After more serious familial issues arise in Justine’s life, she can’t bear it and decides to leave for home. I first found this act to be a tad self-centred, but Justine soon learns to trust and understand others, especially her husband. Furthermore, the novel examines the uniqueness of a mother’s thoughts and feelings. When a child is in pain, it hits the mother most. No matter how much emotional stress and pain children might inflict their mother, nothing withstands a mother’s love. The novel also examines the repercussions of favouritism and indifference. What we can gather from the story is the notion that communication and openness are necessary in a functioning family. Also, family problems don’t only reside in the Cantrell household; the McQuillans too hold their dark secrets which Camilla and Justine must come to terms with if they want to move on.
I consider the dialogue between characters to be the most prominent feature of the novel. It mirrors the importance of communication in stabilising human relationships. The dual timeline in the story can put you off at first, what with the constant going back and forth. But both timelines come together neatly much later in the novel as Justine gradually learns new truths about her first family back in the US and her new family with Matt.
Justine’s time in Culver can be seen as a breather, a time for Justine to ponder the worth of matrimony and maternity. Is it possible to continue with her life’s vocation? Is it worth taking all these risks and making all these sacrifices? While it may seem that her life choices require a great deal of strength on her part, there are people to help her out. What I found most touching was Justine’s relationship with her mother. Though she may be in a state of turmoil and confusion, the honest dialogue between both mothers acts as a guiding light. Justine’s story teaches us that running away from your problems seldom solves anything. As the title of the novel might suggest, hope keeps you standing when there’s nowhere else to go.