In Gwendolyn Zepeda’s Better with You Here (Grand Central Publishing), single mother Natasha Davila can’t catch a break.
In the opening chapter, she’s competing with her ex-husband’s new girlfriend and dealing her son’s damp underwear.
“Fifty percent of my job as a mother is cleaning up bodily fluids… And then the other 50 percent is worrying,” she says.
Just when Natasha is getting some good luck – finding a decent babysitter and making friends with two other women in her Dallas apartment complex – her ex-husband demands full custody of their children, Alex and Lucia.
Better is a great read thanks to a fast-paced plot with a few interesting twists. But it’s strength lies in Natasha’s voice. She speaks matter-of-factly when she’s recounting her woes, not feeling sorry for herself. When she’s angry, she’s on fire and Zepeda’s words just flow.
“… I picked the wrong man to marry, which is what brought me to this point tobegin with.
What was the last thing I did right? If I had a time machine, how far back would I have to go to undo all the mistakes I’ve made?
This is stupid. Stop thinking this way. Why would I go back and undo anything? I wouldn’t want to live my life again without having Alex and Lucia, would I? No. And there’s no such thing as a time machine, so shut up. Get back to reality. Plan your next move.”
Zepeda is also terrific at describing the little things – such as the way the women struggle to make ends meet. In one scene, Natasha reveals her biggest loss since her divorce.
“That’s what I miss most about being married – my washer and dryer.”
Two other narrators are featured in the book – her 8-year-old son Alex and her friend Sara. Sara’s voice shows her smart-ass attitude (“I can’t stand church. It’s too damn boring.”), but a few of her lines are confusing and annoying.
Still, that’s one of the few weaknesses in this compelling book. Better with You Here makes a great summer read.
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.