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Stewart (Husband and Wife, 2011) takes what could have been a sitcom premise a single aunt left to care for her sister's three orphaned children and turns it into a poignant exploration of the meaning of family. By fast-forwarding from the point of tragedy (when fledgling professor Eloise Hempel inherits her nieces, Theo and Claire, and nephew, Josh), Stewart deftly avoids the trap of relaying stock scenes of the incompetent singleton flummoxed by tasks such as preparing breakfast. Instead, we meet the siblings in early adulthood, each struggling with questions of identity and a desire for roots they fear might not exist. Meanwhile, Eloise is plagued by thoughts of what might have been and the personal sacrifices she made to fill her sister's shoes. A tug-of-war emerges between Eloise and Theo, the eldest of the children, over whether or not to sell the family homestead. Eloise views the house as a burden. For Theo, it's home. Resolution comes when the two finally understand that the life they've lived was as much a gift as the life they lost.--Wetli, Patty Copyright 2010 Booklist
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In Stewart's new novel (after The Myth of You and Me), Eloise Hempel, at 45, is a history professor whose rising career is derailed when her sister dies, leaving her custody of her sister's three children. Eloise returns home to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she does her best to raise Theodora, 11; middle-child Josh, and two-year-old Claire in her family's large, enviable home. Seventeen years later, her sister's children now adults, Eloise reveals her plan to sell the house and, maybe, move in with Heather, her secret girlfriend. But Theo, Josh, and Claire, none of whom want the house to be sold, confront Eloise, each other, and themselves; in trying to come to terms with adulthood and responsibility, they are all nearly ripped apart. Stewart's novel is an intimate exploration of a family in crisis and the different ways in which people cope with grief. While the plot meanders and the characters seem paralyzed with indecision, readers will empathize with their plight. Unfortunately, the combination of a melodramatic story line and a focus on minutiae make for a forgettable read. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Stewart (The Myth of You and Me) has a knack for introducing characters in need of mending: they are not broken, just disjointed, needy, and, at times, without emotional support. Eloise Hempel is the de facto mother to three twentysomething siblings, having become their primary caregiver after their parents were killed in a car accident. Always planning to put her life back on track as a Harvard professor, Eloise has found herself rooted in Cincinnati for 20 years as she parented her sister's children to adulthood. There's Josh, her kind nephew, something of a negotiator and very much the middle child, a young man who has recently tossed away a life in music. The youngest, Claire, is a wispy, wily ballet dancer, and sensitive Theodora, the eldest, is nearly as sensible and strong as Eloise. Inextricably linked together, the three also have strong ties to their childhood home. Looking toward future domestic arrangements, Eloise slowly hedges toward momentous decisions, while the siblings dabble in their own decision making, sometimes with disastrous results. VERDICT Domestic fiction fans favoring strong, intelligent characters will be intrigued by Stewart's introspective examination of a family.-Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.