Sarah Bird’s latest novel, The Gap Year, is a must-read for anyone who loves mother-daughter stories. Cam Lightsey, a lactation consultant in the homogenous world of Texan suburbia, is attempting to prepare her daughter Aubrey for the next step after high school. The pushing-from-the-nest does not exactly go as planned, which Bird reveals through two simultaneously unfolding storylines. The first, told from Cam’s perspective, details her mounting frustration with her daughter and her growing suspicion that Aubrey has no intention of attending college at all. The second, told from Aubrey’s perspective a year earlier, attempts to explain her own seemingly cryptic actions in the present day. Like many daughters, Aubrey is both a great deal like her mother and anxious to rebel against everything her mother believes in.
In the absence of a father figure (Martin left home 16 years ago to embrace leadership in a bizarre religious sect), Cam and Aubrey have become incredibly close. Cam can read Aubrey like a book, a quality Aubrey relies upon and resents in equal measures. Meanwhile Aubrey can sling insults at Cam so personal the reader may find herself wincing. In short, Bird has done a remarkable job of creating one very specific mother-daughter pair and a dynamic that will feel familiar to many readers.
It becomes nearly impossible to put The Gap Year down once broiling tensions come to a nice simmer. In plot one, Cam vacillates between strong-arming her daughter into packing and realizing how outside the loop she really is. In plot two, Aubrey resumes communication with her long-lost dad and falls for exactly the kind of guy she knows her mother wouldn’t understand: a football jock.
I will say nothing of the conclusion, except that Bird knew what she was doing the whole time. As Cam and Aubrey learn to see each other in different lights, readers might reflect on their own relationships with their mothers, especially during the difficult late-teenage years, and decide to dial up Mom to offer some belated gratitude.