Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: This Was Not the Plan

Summary: From the acclaimed author of The Darlings comes a “funny, bittersweet, and ultimately uplifting look” (Sarah Pekkanen) at fatherhood, love, and family life.

Charlie Goldwyn’s life hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Widowerhood at thirty-three and twelve-hour workdays have left a gap in his relationship with his quirky five-year-old son, Caleb, whose obsession with natural disasters and penchant for girls’ clothing have made him something of a loner at his preschool. The only thing Charlie has going for him is his job at a prestigious law firm, where he is finally close to becoming a partner.

But when a slight lapse in judgment at an office party leaves him humiliatingly unemployed, stuck at home with Caleb for the summer, and forced to face his own estranged father, Charlie starts to realize that there’s more to fatherhood than financially providing for his son, and more to being a son than overtaking his father’s successes.

At turns heartbreaking and hilarious, This Was Not the Plan is a “sparkling and heartfelt” (Bookpage) story about loss and love, parenthood, and friendship, and what true work-life balance means. -- Touchstone

After I finished reading THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN by Cristina Alger, I realized that I don't read a lot of feel-good books. Or at least, I haven't read a lot of them lately. It might be related to the amount of thrillers that I've read in recent years, but I can't remember the last time I smiled after finishing the last page of a novel. THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN definitely warmed my heart!

THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN tells the story of Charlie Goldwyn, a man who has been dealt his fair share of heartache. He lost his wife in a tragic accident and was left with a toddler son. Fortunately, Charlie's sister serves as the primary caregiver for his son Caleb because Charlie works non-stop as a high power attorney. And I mean non-stop! The novel begins with Charlie working three straight days (or something crazy like that!). Despite leaving his son with virtually no mother or father, he can't stop now because is fairly certain that he is on track to become a partner in the firm.

However, when Charlie attends a company party and over imbibes, he speaks out against the companies his firm defends and ends up losing his job. In what seems like an unfortunate twist of events, Charlie ends up spending lots of time with his quirky five year old son. He also finds himself facing some painful events from his past... and discovers that there's more to life than just work.

I really enjoyed THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN, and I admit that I fell a little in love with Charlie and Caleb. Charlie was an extremely well drawn character who evolved so much throughout this novel. It was difficult not to root for him; and while I was pretty sure how this book would end, I didn't mind the predictability of the story one bit! And Caleb was just an adorable boy who was also a bit different from his classmates. He loved the colors pink and purple, had his own sense of fashion, and also happened to not have a lot of friends. I adored how Charlie accepted his son for who he was. Even when Charlie was a very attentive father, I knew he still loved his son... he just didn't know how to be a father.

And part of the reason Charlie wasn't a hands-on father was that Charlie didn't grow up with a dad. His mom got pregnant with a married, high-power attorney (See any similarities there? Can you say daddy issues?) and chose to bring up Charlie and his sister on her own. Charlie never knew the entire story and spend 35+ years upset with his father for neglecting him. He also spent a major part of his life trying to perfect to prove to his father that he didn't need him. I enjoyed seeing how the relationship with his father eventually played out in this novel; however, I will admit that I preferred the dynamics between Charlie and Caleb.

One thing I absolutely adored about THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN was how it ended. Remember when I mentioned that the book was kind of/sort of predictable? Well, I basically knew that Charlie would end up realizing that work isn't as fulfilling as being a parent, brother, and son. However, I have to say that I thought how the author chose to end the novel was clever. I don't want to give too much away, but Charlie didn't get everything he wanted... and Ms. Alger definitely didn't wrap up his entire story with a pretty red bow. Having said that, the novel did end rather open-ended or at least I sure hope the ending is up to interpretation!

I also really appreciated how this book tugged on my heartstrings while also making me laugh. There really is a lot of humor in this novel. I found myself laughing quite a bit at Caleb (in a good way), and I thought the scene where Charlie embarrassed himself was hysterical. And there were many more truly funny scenes and characters. However, as a mom who decided to stay home with her children, I also found this novel to extremely touching. My heart went out to Charlie. He sure had a lot of hang ups, but he was a good man just trying to do the best he could.

THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN would make a great book club selection. I was excited to find a reading guide with ten quality questions as well as a few suggestions for how to enhance your book club meeting. Some of the themes you might want to discuss are grief, guilt, parenting, father/son relationships, second chances, work/life balance, the definition of family, friendship, happiness, acceptance, love, and healing.

Overall, I enjoyed THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN so much. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy family dramas and sentimental stories.

Thanks to Get Red PR and the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I don't read a lot of feel good books either but always enjoy them when I do. This sounds like a good one.

Kim@Time2Read said...

This one didn't really appeal to me at first glance....but your review changed my mind. It sounds really good! Adding it to my list!