<b>A family's life changed in an instant</b>Like her 2005 debut novel, The Center of Everything, Laura Moriarty's <b>The Rest of Her Life</b> is set in a small Kansas town, with a troubled mother-daughter relationship at its heart. This time around, rather than a wise-beyond-her-years girl as protagonist, we have middle-aged wife, mother and teacher Leigh, who has spent her life trying to counteract an unhappy childhood at the hands of a neglectful mother.
In doing so, she has developed an inability to communicate with her own daughter, Kara (a pretty, popular high school senior), without worrying how she will be perceived or received. For Leigh, whose mother dragged her and her sister from town to town before abandoning Leigh when she was 16, every encounter is a minefield of potential rejection. She has an easier time with her preteen son who, like Leigh, is smart but unpopular. Leigh does succeed in creating a stable home: She becomes a well-liked English teacher, marries college-professor Gary and keeps in contact with her sister, Pam. The family lives in a nice house, and her gossipy friend Eva keeps Leigh up to date on local current events. Then a horrific accident puts the family in the spotlight: Kara is driving the family SUV while talking on her cell phone, and she hits and kills a classmate. It's at once a message for our modern age and the catalyst for a sudden, painful re-examination of the family's relationships and their place in a small, tight-knit town. The Rest of Her Life bears blurbs from Jacquelyn Mitchard and Jodi Picoult, and readers who enjoy those authors will find this book appealing. Like them, Moriarty has taken a close look at a family in a way that is sympathetic, yet unflinching. As in her earlier work, Moriarty doesn't take the easy way out: Although the characters do find a semblance of peace, their definition of a happy ending has been forever altered. Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina.