The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot (William Morrow, 2016)
Okay, so Meg Cabot is not high brow literature. However, she is a New York Times best-selling author who definitely has her finger on the pulse of life as a millennial. Best known for her Princess Diary books about an American commoner, Mia Thermopolis, who suddenly learns in her teens that she is the princess of Genovia, Cabot has made her mark primarily in the genre of young adult fiction. She has also penned The Mediator series, the 1-800-WHERE-R-U series, the Avalon High series, and the All-American Girl series for teen readers as well.
Cabot's adult novels, including the Boy series, of which The Boy is Back is the most recent installment, allow Cabot to use her whimsical sense of humor in writing romantic comedies that are like cotton candy in their fluffiness. Back in the era of Bram Stoker, who wrote one of the most famous novels of all time, Dracula, authors liked to break up narrative by using what was called the epistolary method, a fancy term for including letters between characters to move the plot forward. Cabot has modernized the epistolary method and tells the novels in The Boy series through screen shots of e-mails, chat rooms, messages, advertisements, and even news stories written in the local town's newspaper. As a result, the actual prose of the book takes about an hour to read.
The Boy is Back tells the story of Becky Flowers, who owns a very creative business (and one that I could certainly have used for a family member in the last year). Becky is the President of Moving Up!, a firm that will go into the homes of senior citizens, organize their personal belongings, chuck out what isn't worth taking to a new home, pack up the valuables, and assist the clients in moving to a new location. She charges a lot of money, but her services are wonderful, especially to families struggling with elderly parents who can be stubborn and resistant to change.
Becky's latest clients, Judge Richard P. Steward and his lovely wife, Constance, who just happen to be the parents of Becky's high school boyfriend, currently a golf pro on the circuit, have apparently run into some trouble recently. Judge Stewart and Connie are an eccentric couple with an interesting family. Aside from Reed, who has been estranged from his parents since the night of Becky's and his senior prom when he fled from home for running a golf cart into the club pool, there are Marshall, who is married to Carly, and Trimble, a daughter who has taken over her father's law firm. When the Judge and Connie are arrested for attempting to pay for a meal at Shenanigans Neighborhood Bar and Grill with a postage stamp that the Judge thought was worth a small fortune, the family opens its eyes to the fact that there may be more going on in the Stewart home than eccentricity.
A battery of e-mail pleas from his siblings, as well as the lure of the girl he let get away, Reed returns to his home town to see what's up with his parents. His return sends sparks flying, not only among his family members, but between him and his former flame. You can feel the heat as Becky fights her suppressed emotions for her old beau, but it doesn't take long for the passion to flare. While Reed had gotten off to a brilliant start as a professional athlete after he left home abruptly on the night of their senior prom, his swing has been less than brilliant lately as his best bud and caddy, Enrique Alvarez keeps pointing out to him in their e-mails. Enrique thinks that Reed is lacking stability in a loving relationship to make him happy, and provides his boss with romantic advice.
In the meantime Becky has been dating a nice, albeit dull, guy, Graham, who is the proprietor of Authentic, a wine and cheese boutique. Becky's sister, Nicole, frequently refers to Graham as the “lumbersexual” as he sports a heavy beard and is so one-dimensional in his passion for a variety of international cheeses. But everyone knows, Becky's best friend, her sister, even her mother, that Graham is not the real deal and there is definitely more to life than cheese.
Although there is nothing too deep in the plot, and the characters are rather one dimensional, Cabot does touch on a nerve that many of us in the “sandwich” generation feel. What do you do with parents who are losing it, but still have enough of their marbles not to have to commit to a nursing home? And how do we prevent those whom we love from becoming victims of “elder abuse,” even if it is from their own children?
If you are looking for great literature, say Jane Austen or William Shakespeare, you might be pleased to know that Becky and Reed are very literary in their conversations to each other and frequently quote from some of the masters, which makes The Boy is Back maybe a tad more serious. And maybe not. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a book to read on the train, on the beach, or even in the bathtub, try a little Meg Cabot.