There are chick lit writers, and then there are novelists like Mitchard who write about—and for—flesh-and-blood females who must cope with the vagaries of life and marriage. Nine years after her debut novel The Deep End of the Ocean (the first book that Oprah Winfrey picked for her Book Club), Mitchard again examines a family in peril. In her sixth novel Mitchard, who also writes children's books, mines the landscape of a shattering family to illuminate the moments of forgiveness and grace.
College sweethearts Julieanne, a dancer turned advice columnist, and Leo, an attorney, have two teenagers, Gabe and Caroline, a 2-year-old named Aury and a seemingly solid union. But Julieanne, so skilled at dispensing clear-headed advice to readers, is blind to the hairline fractures that threaten her own marriage. "We're in a rut, Julieanne. And we call it life," explains her self-important husband.
Resenting his responsibilities, Leo flees, leaving no forwarding address or funds. And Julieanne, who has been troubled by numbness in her legs, is diagnosed with MS. Confined to her bed when the disease is particularly active, she comes to depend on her best friend and Gabe to write her column when she finds herself flagging and to care for Aury. As their mother struggles with the effects of the disease and reactions to the powerful cancer drugs she takes to keep it from progressing, Gabe and Caroline undertake a cross-country journey to bring their errant father home. But what they and their mother learn at the end of the journey proves that Breakdown is more than the story of a dying marriage; it is a tale of the life-giving—and often strained—ties between parent and child.