This Book Review and Author Spotlight is part of a Blog Tour of Those Children Are Ours by David Burnett, organised by Brook Cottage Books.
Blurb: Those Children Are Ours
Jennie Bateman screamed at her daughters, cursed at her husband, packed a bag, and walked away. Twelve years later, she petitions the family court for visitation with her daughters, Alexis and Christa.
Her attorney tells Jennie that, ordinarily, she could not imagine that some type of visitation would not be granted. But, she warns, the situation is hardly ordinary.
True, Jennie suffered from a bipolar disorder when she began to drink heavily, abandoned her family, and moved in with another man. True, she has turned her life around: leaving her boyfriend, returning to school, entering therapy, taking medication, finding a job, and joining a church.
But she pressed no claim for her children when her husband divorced her, and she has made no attempt to contact them in any way. Her daughters are now sixteen and fourteen. They live four hundred miles away, and they have busy lives that do not include her, lives that will be totally disrupted by the visitation that Jennie requests.
Their father is engaged to be married to a woman who has taken the role of their mother for a decade, and neither child wants anything to do with Jennie. Alexis remembers nothing good about her. Christa recalls nothing at all.
Conflict ensues as soon as Jennie’s petition is served: her former husband does not want to share his children with the woman who deserted him; her children have no interest in knowing the mother who abandoned them, and her father believes that she is being timid and ought to demand full custody, not visitation.
As court convenes, Jennie’s past is dredged up− the desertion, the men, her drinking, her mental health − and hauled before the judge. Her claim to be a different person, now, is attacked. When the judge appears to be reluctant to grant Jennie’s request, but seems to feel that she must, her husband’s attorney suggests three trial visits, hoping that they will go so badly that Jennie will come to her senses and drop her petition.
Jennie wants to be a part of her children’s lives, but can she convince them to allow her to try?
My Review (4 Stars)
Those Children are Ours is the story of Jennie, a dysfunctional young woman, who made a mess of her life due to unwise choices, mental illness, and alcoholism. Twelve years after walking out on her husband and two daughters, her life is back on track. Thanks to the passing of time, religion, and her psychologist, she no longer drinks or sleeps around. Her mental condition is under control and she is working as a teacher.
However, Jennie is still immature and insecure. She is also coping with personal problems, such as a drunk ex-boyfriend and a violent and unsupportive father. Surprisingly, she decides, or rather is convinced, that she wants to see her daughters again.
It takes her time to realize she can’t take up where she left off and expect everyone to forget and forgive how she destroyed the family she once had. Her ex-husband and his daughters’ lives have moved on, they have busy and well-organized schedules, and a step-mother and step-sisters they are very fond of. Jennie discovers she is an unwelcome and unloved intruder.
Although the events narrated are heart-wrenching, and the time period covered is long, from Jennie’s College Days to her mid thirties, it’s so fast paced and well written that it’s a pleasure to turn the pages and follow the evolution of Jennie’s dramatic and traumatic life. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I read it in two sittings. I especially enjoyed the court hearings and the realistic dialogues throughout.
It’s a disturbing, contemporary family drama, which makes the reader become involved and take sides. There are various generations and relatives involved; parents, step-parents and siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, uncles and aunts. It was hard for me to feel much sympathy for Jennie, especially at the beginning of the novel, but I gradually came to understand and feel compassion for her.
The author cleverly moves the narrative from, ‘Those children are mine’, a selfish cry from all of the adults involved, to a more balanced, ‘Those children are ours’, which appears on the final page. The way the characters and plot evolves to reach an unexpected, yet realistic and hopeful ending, makes the reading experience meaningful and thought-provoking.
I’ve asked David to tell us more about his novel and his writing process.
1- What inspired you to write Those Children Are Ours?
I generally say that I do not know the origins of my stories. I certainly cannot explain all of the twists and turns of the plots. I’ve actually posted on my blog on this very question At the conclusion of that post, I write this about the inspiration for my stories:
It is sort of like magic!
In the Second Chance Café, the author writes of a young woman who weaves beautiful scarves. They sell in upscale stores around the country and are often seen wrapped around the bodies of movie stars and celebrities. Each scarf is unique. How does she decide on the colors, the pattern, for a new scarf? She describes the process in this manner:
“I don’t know how you do that,” her father said, looking at the collection (of yarn) she held and shaking his head.
Honestly, neither did she. To this day, she could not explain how the colors came together in her mind. How one flowed into another as she sat at her loom. How the different strands of story became a whole. “I just see it. I don’t know where it comes from. Any of it. It’s just there.”
For me, that’s how it is with writing.
2- What would you say to a reader to convince him/her to read Those Children Are Ours?
As the story opens, Jennie Bateman is certainly not a very nice person.
We typically do not expect people to change. It’s a principle of perception.
If you imagine your best friend, you expect his behavior today to be the same as it was yesterday. You look for it not to be any different next week, next month, next year, or at the end of the next decade. I will tell students in my psychology classes that in a few years, they will be invited tom their high school reunions, and they will expect their former classmates to look and to behave exactly as they did on the night of graduation. And many of them will. And some of them won’t.
People can change, and Jennie Bateman is one who does. She overcomes a debilitating mental illness and she changes her life. All of my books focus in some way on the need for forgiveness. It is important to give people second chances, and third ones, too!
A second focus of the book is her illness. In the Unites States, at any rate, bipolar disorder is a frequently diagnosed condition, too frequently, some believe. Many believe that the disorder simply consists of sudden mood changes and that manic behavior seems like fun. In many cases, though, the popular view is inaccurate. Jennie’s case is one of these. Particularly in the first half of the story, the reader sees the effects of the disorder and comes appreciate just how serious it can be. Her disorder is not presented as an excuse for her behavior. It is an explanation, at least a partial one. She needs forgiveness, she wants forgiveness, and in the story, she is seeking it.
3. What are you working on now?
Currently, I am at work on two stories. One is a stand-alone sequel to Those Children Are Ours. It picks up Jennie’s life four years later, and while it has a romantic theme running through it, it deals with events that unfold when Jennie is shamed into no longer taking her medication, and the classic symptoms of bipolar disorder re-emerge.
The second is a bit different from my other books. It is a paranormal romance (if the characters are angels that makes it paranormal, doesn’t it?) that is set during the war in heaven, when Lucifer rebelled against God. It focuses on a young angel who follows Lucifer, while the one she loves stands with Saint Michael. Readers will, perhaps, recognize it as a re-telling of the parable of the prodigal son.
Thank you so much for visiting Rereading Jane Eyre, David. It was a pleasure to read and review your novel, and take part in Those Children Are Ours, Blog Tour. I look forward to reading about Jennie four years on!