When Mia and Mac start receiving threatening graffiti messages from a neighborhood gang, they decide it might be a good idea to move out to the Chicago suburbs. Fortified by Mia’s successful career as a novelist (her series of Amish-zombie-teen romances, with titles like It’s Raining Mennonites, turn out to be a big hit), the couple can’t resist a house made famous by the 1980s movies of Mia’s idol, filmmaker John Hughes. So Mia and Mac buy the house and move in right away. That’s their first mistake.

Unfortunately, their new home comes fully equipped with numerous colonies of carpenter ants, a collapsing floor, non-working bathrooms, highly penetrable walls, doors that swell when painted and repellent neighbors. And their marriage starts to show the strain when Mac turns out not to be quite the handyman he fancies himself, and Mia’s Polish aunt, Babcia, becomes a direct threat to the neighborhood’s ornamental cabbages. Finding reliable contractors becomes almost impossible, what with members of the mob, dogfighters and secret revolutionaries among the candidates. All of this is not to mention a secretive, mysterious enemy working against Mia and Mac behind the scenes.

Jen Lancaster is a New York Times best-selling author of five memoirs based on her popular blog, jennsylvania.com. Spontaneous as any blog, her first novel boasts 174 footnotes—but its resemblance to an erudite think-piece stops there. With quirky, contemporary language (“That’s just covered in awesome sauce”), If You Were Here will eventually overcome most readers’ caveats with its protagonist’s good heart and creative plot progressions. It takes some getting used to, but this whimsical, funny novel of DIY gone awry will win over even the most skeptical reader.

 

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