A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White
Published by Touchstone
From the publisher:
For more than ten years, Naomi and Phil Harrison enjoyed a marriage of heady romance, tempered only by the needs of their children. But on a vacation alone, the couple perishes in a flight over the Grand Canyon. After the funeral, their daughters, Ruthie and Julia, are shocked by the provisions in their will…not the least of which is that they are to be separated.
Spanning nearly two decades, the sisters’ journeys take them from their familiar home in Atlanta to sophisticated bohemian San Francisco, a mountain town in Virginia, the campus of Berkeley, and lofts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As they heal from loss, search for love, and begin careers, their sisterhood, once an oasis, becomes complicated by resentment, anger, and jealousy. It seems as though the echoes of their parents’ deaths will never stop reverberating—until another shocking accident changes everything once again.
I’ve had this book on my TBR since falling in love with Susan Rebecca White’s gorgeous novel, A Place at the Table. When you love a book as much as I loved that one, it’s hard not to set exceedingly high expectations for the rest of the author’s work, which is kind of what happened here. I liked A Soft Place to Land. It was good. It was fine. It was sweet. It had emotions. It had pretty good characters. But the book didn’t come anywhere close to what I was hoping it would be.
I think the book started out problematic for me because I couldn’t buy the central premise. Basically, Naomi and Phil’s daughters are separated and raised by two different families after their parents die. The reason for this is complicated – Julia (the older daughter) has a biological father who is not Phil, so even though Naomi has full custody of her, upon her death, her will states that Julia is to live with her biological father and stepmother. And in the will, Ruthie is to live with she and Julia’s aunt and uncle. I get that Julia has to live with her biological parent, but would loving parents really put in a will that if they were to both die, their daughters – who now only have one another – be split up and have to live across the country from each other? And would the people charged with raising them after such a catastrophic event REALLY want to go along with this plan and allow the girls to be raised separately? I get it, but I don’t. There’s a point where the option to be raised together is presented, but various adults decide to be selfish and not do this, and I just couldn’t. Adults should want the best for children – this was NOT the best, and so outside the realm of what I thought was believable that I think it colored the entire book for me.
Besides all of that nonsense, I did like the book. Julia and Ruthie were believable – they each acted out in sometimes horrible ways, as grieving people do. Not only did they grieve for their parents, but their entire lives were turned upside-down because of the whole moving to different states, living with different families thing. Julia didn’t get along with her stepmother, Ruthie didn’t understand or identify with Julia’s rebellious ways, it was just a lot of these girls growing up and figuring things out, without parents and mostly without each other. I definitely feel that Susan Rebecca White can do complicated family dynamics really, REALLY well. And that she understands characters who act terrible and do awful things because of not knowing how else to react to a terrible situation.
I think the moral of the story of this review is that I liked A Soft Place to Land but had issues with it, and if I were going to recommend a book to you, I’d encourage you to pick up A Place at the Table first, as I felt that to be a far stronger novel. But I do plan to read more of the author’s books, because I really enjoy her writing and the way she develops her characters.