The Gap Year by Sarah Bird
“Sharp, smart, funny, and addictive” —Z. Z. Packer
From the widely praised author of The Yokota Officers Club and The Flamenco Academy, a novel as hilarious as it is heartbreaking about a single mom and her seventeen-year-old daughter learning how to let go in that precarious moment before college empties the nest.
In The Gap Year, told with perfect pitch from both points of view, we meet Cam Lightsey, lactation consultant extraordinaire, a divorcée still secretly carrying a torch for the ex who dumped her, a suburban misfit who’s given up her rebel dreams so her only child can get a good education.
We also learn the secrets of Aubrey Lightsey, tired of being the dutiful, grade-grubbing band geek, ready to explode from wanting her “real” life to begin, trying to figure out love with boys weaned on Internet porn.
When Aubrey meets Tyler Moldenhauer, football idol–sex god with a dangerous past, the fuse is lit. Late-bloomer Aubrey metastasizes into Cam’s worst silent, sullen teen nightmare, a girl with zero interest in college. Worse, on the sly Aubrey’s in touch with her father, who left when she was two to join a celebrity-ridden nutball cult.
As the novel unfolds—with humor, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and penetrating insights about love in the twenty-first century—the dreams of daughter, mother, and father chart an inevitable, but perhaps not fatal, collision . . .
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Sarah Bird is the author of seven previous novels. She is a columnist for Texas Monthly and has contributed to many other magazines including O, The Oprah Magazine; The New York Times Magazine; Real Simple; and Good Housekeeping. Sarah, the 2010 Johnston Dobie Paisano Fellow, makes her empty nest in Austin, Texas.
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From our Q&A with the author
Q: The “gap year,” or any amount of time at the end of high school and preceding college, can be fraught for parents and their children. What made you decide to write about this time in a parent’s (and a child’s) life?
A: The Gap Year was born in the frozen food aisle at the moment when I burst into tears because our son was leaving for college and I realized that never again would I ever buy Pepperoni Pizza Hot Pockets. That sounds facetious, but it’s not. I was so blindsided by the depth of my grief for this vile snack food that, as with most of the big puzzles in my life, I would need to write a novel to begin to understand what “empty nest” truly meant to me.
Q: This is a novel that deals with some of the most personal relationships in life, and readers will undoubtedly think about their own families while reading. Did you draw on your own relationships while writing the book?
A: In 2008, our son became a member of the largest college freshman class in history. Everything about the experience surprised me. Let’s just start off with the cost. I knew that college costs had skyrocketed so we’d put aside a small fortune. We learned, however, that small wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, a great walloping fortune would be required.
The next shock was discovering that in order to even be allowed to spend these breathtaking sums I would have to take on a second job as a ratings coordinator. There are over four thousand colleges and universities in this country and each one had to be parsed because, as it turns out, the college your child goes to is, essentially, a referendum on you as a parent. Are you a five-star Ivy League parent? A small, selective liberal arts college parent? A giant, state university parent? A two-year community college parent? Being a no-college parent was so far beyond the pale that it wasn’t even ever mentioned.
So the getting-in part surprised me. But what surprised me even more was what happened once we settled on a college and the empty nest loomed as a reality. While pregnant eighteen years earlier, I had devoured every “What to Expect ” book out there. As we slogged through this college experience, I wished for a whole new slew of guides to help me through this unsettling phase. For example, I wondered, was it normal to both ardently pray for the day when this grumpy stranger you’ve raised would vacate the premises and to burst into tears in the frozen food aisle?
How about Real Estate Regret? Was it normal to uncontrollably replay the different—possibly better?—childhoods my son might have had if we’d lived in a different neighborhood—a neighborhood where he could have ridden his bike! Went to a different school—a school where the arts were emphasized!
Though I chastised myself for the time I wasted on such pointless regrets, I couldn’t stop Real Estate Regret any more than I could control the spontaneous bouts of time travel that I was sucked into. Perhaps because the date of our son’s departure seemed like a deadline, the moment when his childhood and my active momhood would end, I kept spinning off into bouts of time travel where I’d revisit key moments in the past and hit the psychic Reset. Then, like Real Estate Regret, I’d create an entirely different childhood for my son in which, for example, his father and I had never allowed videogames. Or we had been active in the Methodist Church. Or in a Buddhist temple. Or we had owned a telescope and pursued astronomy as a family hobby. Or raised chickens. Or all made our beds every morning.
It would not stop. Obviously, I needed, probably still need, intensive therapy. Instead, I wrote The Gap Year.
(…read the rest)