When It Happens To You

Author: Molly Ringwald
ISBN: 978-1-47111-423-6

Molly Ringwald has long been a household name for her performances in 80’s coming-of-age movies Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, her acting career began at the age of 13 and now she brings us her debut fiction offering.

When It Happens To You is a series of interconnected short stories that form a novel, the story of a marriage in distress.

I am not very familiar with the whole concept of ‘a novel in stories’ so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Many of the stories seem unconnected to begin with so it was with eager anticipation that I kept my mind open to spot the connection.

The characters central to this collection of stories are the Parris family – Greta, Phillip and their 6 yr old daughter Charlotte. At least one of these characters appears in each of the 8 stories and serves as the connecting thread which brings these stories into the cohesive tale of the Parris marriage.

Opening with The Harvest Moon we meet the Parris family. A boisterous 6 year old and her parents. Greta is struggling with fertility treatments as she watches Phillip become increasingly distant. There are times in this story where you can almost see the two trying to find their way back to each other, wondering how they got lost, and there is a passage where Greta starts to think about the signs of things being even more wrong than she thought, and though we don’t learn anything in this story the writing is on the wall and you can see what’s going on.

From here we follow the three through relationships with their families, new friends and each other as they struggle to overcome the obstacles they are facing.

My favourite story is My Olivia, exploring an issue that I’m sure every parent has at times feared. How do you keep the sometimes tenuous balance between nurturing your child to be themselves and doing everything in your power to keep them safe? Especially when it seems that allowing them to be themselves is what puts them at risk. Marina is a single parent trying to do the best for her child in a situation many parents fear and would be especially unprepared to deal with from a 6yr old, and no parent likes to see their child ostracised.

We also meet the aged widow next door who is still trying to come to grips with living alone after being married for over 40 years and the actor trying to re-invent his life after a long running role in children’s television.

Individually these stories focus on characters journeying through love and loss but when all of the threads come together and you look at the big picture we are following the story of one family and how they navigate the rocky road of betrayal.

Ringwald has written characters that resonate and evoke empathy. If these situations aren’t ones you have experienced then they are ones you have worried about or know someone who has experienced. They are, for the most part, quite ordinary issues but they are the ones that touch the deepest part of the heart.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected and I’m glad I picked it up; though I was left a little less than satisfied because I would have liked to know what happened next for Marina.


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