Who is Johnelle Morrissey? Is she the successful wife, mother and career woman who seems to have everything, including the most amazing BFF? Her life seems complete, she is happy, she has everything she worked and planned for. But when her plane comes down shortly after takeoff she is left in a coma for weeks, while her husband, son and BFF Alice try to deal with the possibility of loosing her, or getting only a part of her back.
When she finally starts to come round Alice is there for her literally 24/7 until hubby Dwight can get back from a sales trip and son Ian from Italy. Alice is, as always, conscious of her ‘place’ in the family and, not wanting to overstep the mark, works hard to help Johnelle remember her husband and son as well as their long term friendship.
Johnelle and Alice have been best friends since 6th grade, inseparable and rock solid for each other. Alice knew early that she loved her friend, but she quickly realized Johnelle was 100% straight and vowed to always put her friendship first. So she wept on Johnelle’s wedding day but kept her pain to herself, living in the shadows of the happy family and being the perfect friend, the perfect aunt.
Alice knows she is the outsider. Tolerated by Johnelle’s parents and useful to her husband as both a substitute parent and reliable resource. But her dedication to her friend mean she is the one who continues to visit twice a day over weeks when the rest of the family go back to their lives, she is the one who talks to the comatose patient, and she is the one who is there when Johnelle wakes up.
As Johnelle emerges from the haze of jumbled memories and regains her self and her self will, a different woman emerges and the changes will impact all of them. Whether it is Alice’s presence, her words and tales or the near death experience, Johnelle no longer wants the status quo, and soon begins to realise she no longer wants her controlling husband to rule her life. The Johnelle who emerges from the trauma is a different woman, no longer prepared to be ruled by husband and father, determined to make her own choices and finding feelings long buried that she had never allowed herself to explore.
KG MacGregor has created an interesting twist on a traditional plot. We are led through a tale of a woman emerging from the fog of brain trauma, discovering herself for the first time, and finding out she is not who everyone thinks she is.
The character of Alice is wonderful. Strong silent loving lesbian BFF who has, literally, suffered her whole life with her unrequited love. Rather than leave her best friend and create a new life she has chosen to stay, be the family spinster aunt, support and rock. Her relationship with the family forms a brilliant canvas upon which the new Johnelle emerges from her chrysalis.
Johnelle is a work in progress. The loss of memory and feelings she once had gives Ms MacGregor the opportunity to show a woman before and after a life changing event, and to explore how starting from scratch as an adult might allow us to make different choices. The author does an excellent job of drawing out the gradual changes and self-realization, and of Johnelle’s slow understanding that she cannot go back.
Johnelle and Alice are strong characters, well drawn and developed. They, as well as Alice’s feisty mother Dessie, the bewildered ‘man of the house’ Dwight, the sensitive son Ian and homophobic father form a cast which will be recognized by most. They form the backdrop of many American novels and soaps. KG McGregor has colored them in with love and affection, even for those with whom we have little sympathy.
The plot is simple, the recovery of a air crash victim from brain injury including hospitalization, rehabilitation and a gradual coming back into herself as her memories and emotions settle from the jumble caused by disorientation.
But on top of this KG has layered a controlling father and husband who think they have the right to manage Johnelle’s life. A friendship which supersedes even the best of BFF’s. And a gradual realization from Johnelle of why she made the choices that seemed like the only ones available. And even more important, the choices she now has the opportunity to make-over.
We could, perhaps, have had more of the childhood and teenage friendship between Alice and Johnelle to give more substance to the feelings that develop, and more detail of the way Johnelle made the choices she did. Presenting her at the start of the novel as having it all doesn’t present us with a woman who doubts or regrets the route her life has taken. Never-the-less an excellent book, well written, well edited, thoroughly enjoyable read.