Thursday, June 12, 2008

SHE SAID, SHE SAID by Celeste Norfleet & Jennifer Norfleet

This novel is marketed as Young Adult, but I really don't think of it that way. To me, it's Women's Fiction, which happens to include a teenager as one of the two protagonists. I applaud the mother and daughter team who wrote this novel, as well as Kimani Tru for publishing it. A novel with a teenager and her mother as equal protagonists is hard, if not impossible to find. Unfortunately, most people assume all teenagers hate their parents and don't want to read novels in which they're featured. Likewise, it's assumed all parents can't stand teenagers and don't want to read novels in which they're included as equals. I know this is a load of crap because I live in the real world where teenagers and their parents come in every size, shape, color, and personality. Some teens and their parents do hate each other, some tolerate each other, and, yes, some actually like and respect each other. Don't fall over laughing. It's true. Remember, assumptions are an excuse for not listening and stereotypes are an excuse for not thinking.
I didn't have a normal teenage-hood, so I came at this like a nanny from Nanny 911. While a nanny is there to support the mother, she always takes the child's side. Always. This is because parents often become so busy and stressed out that they fail to hear the child's true voice. A nanny is trained to amplify and interpret that voice.
Each member of the Fraser Family is almost totally selfish. For Tamika Fraser to be selfish, it doesn't bother me. She's only sixteen years old and doesn't have the parents to role model selflessness for her. She's just figuring herself out on the brink of adulthood. Her parents, Malcolm and Laura, have no excuse. They're both fortysomethings who really ought to know better.
Malcolm gave up on growing into a mature relationship with his wife a long time ago. It's a lot of work and some men are so terrified of taking on something they might fail at that they won't take it on at all. Instead, he's become a workaholic and, oh, yes, he had an affair.
Laura is a perfectionist. If there's one thing about perfectionists, it's their utter lack of flexiblity and adaptation. I know. One of my daughters is one. When the power of perfectionism is channeled for good instead of evil, it's a wonderful thing. But, it's running Laura, her marriage, and her daughter into the ground.
Tamika is what most people consider to be an average teenager and it's all her parents fault, of course. Deep inside, she's far from average. Unfortunately, her parents' selfishness and inability to connect with each other as marriage partners and parenting team mates has stunted her growth.
The story flips back and forth between Laura and Tamika. School's out and Tamikia was excited to be going to a photographer's camp. Photography is her passion and she's been looking forward to the camp for a long time. Unfortunately, Dad all of sudden decides he has a business trip to Tokyo and unemployed Mom decides she has to go clean out her parents' house down in Georgia to sell it. Tamika's passion and future take a backseat. Oh, sure, her parents are apologetic, but they're so caught up in their issues they can hardly see straight.
So, it's prime family time and this family is going its separate ways again. Dad's off to Tokyo and possibly an unknown tart. And Laura and Tamika leave for Georgia. Needless to say, no one's happy. Tamika is the least happy and with good reason. The grown-ups have the power to fix this and she doesn't.
No sooner do they get to Georgia than Laura runs into an old friend. While she starts waking up to old memories of who she used to be (and her true self,) Tamika is left on her own, for the most part, and starts finding journals and old photographs and such in the house they're both supposed to be cleaning up to sell and aren't. Luckily, great-aunt Sylvia is there to, basically, tell Tamika to take hold of her own destiny. So, while Laura goes spinning off, supposedly into the deep end trying to be a teenager again, Tamika takes charge of her life and starts really growing up. Meanwhile, Dad calls and realizes something's going on with his wife and the reader will realize he's really worried.
I really felt for Tamika. She has to be the emotional parent for a while and that's a lot to put on a teen. I know because I was the emotional parent my entire childhood, which is probably why I became a nanny. An average teen might be crushed by what Tamika takes on, but, like I said, she's no average teen. Not really. Like all the real life teens I know, she has some strength in her.
Likewise, Laura forgot what it meant to be herself because she was trying so hard to be the perfect wife and mother and worker. As is often the case, trying to be perfect only lands her on her nose.
And Dad, well, he's got a lot to learn if he's going to keep up with these two women!
I better end here. I hope I haven't said too much already. This story will twist your brain cells around, make you shout with fist raised, and cheer for the Frasers as they find their way home. It's been said that fathers know best and I know a lot of mothers like for their children to think they know best. Having been a nanny, however, I can tell you it's often the child who is the only member of the family who can really see through all the crap. Unfortunately, too often no one really listens.
SHE SAID, SHE SAID is an awesome read for all ages, providing the adult ones can humble themselves enough to accept that a teenager can be smarter than them at least some of the time. Age may bring wisdom, but it can also bring on cynicism which stifles all perception. Children are born clear-thinkers - until we mess them up.
Pop over to for more awesome reads from one or both of these authors.


Gwyneth Bolton said...

Excellent review, Kimber An. Celeste Norfleet is an amazing writer. I haven't read any of the YA novels yet, just her amazing romance novels. But I plan to read this one. One of my all time favorite movies was the original Freaky Friday . And while this novel doesn't have the whole body swap paranormal element, the idea of exploring the mother/daughter relationship and role swapping intrigues me. You're review has me convinced it would be a great read.


Michelle Monkou said...

I'm glad that you loved this book, as I think that Celeste is already a great author in her own right. And now Jennifer is following in her mother's footsteps showing off great creativity.

I must admit that I didn't read the summary because I'm about to read it and didn't want to learn anything too soon. I'll definitely come back to your summation when I'm done to compare notes.


Kimber An said...

Gwyneth, it is a great read! This is my first novel by either Norfleet. I'm looking forward to reading the others!

Michelle, do come back and compare notes. But, hey, weren't you going to send me an ARC of your new release? I thought I asked for it, but it still hasn't shown up. Can't remember the title. It was the one with the lady in the beautiful white dress.

Beverly said...

This is a great review but I am not surprised as Celeste Norfleet is a very good writer and also tells an engaging story. That this story was a joint effort between mother and daughter is so wonderful. And as they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree so hopefully we will also see more work from Jennifer Norfleet.


I have a signed copy that I will be reading shortly.

KD KING said...

Wow what an excellent review. I'm not into YA, but reading this review. I might be prone to pick it up. I might buy it for myself or my teenage niece (all depends on how generous Aunt Kim is feeling).

What I find most incredible is that a mother/daughter pair actually wrote the book. I am added this to my list.

Kimber An said...

Beverly and KD, thanks for popping in!

Kimber Chin said...

Sounds like an awesome book!
I so agree that often children can see best what the issues are. Maybe because they're not bringing all that baggage from their past into the evaluation.