The Most Wanted


The Most Wanted is the story of Arlington Mowbray, a deeply sensitive, intelligent and utterly neglected girl, growing up in South Texas, trying to overcome the cruelty of her heritage and find love however she can. On a dare, 14-year-old Arley writes to a prison inmate and falls under the spell of Dillon LeGrande, a man 12 years older than she and the former lover of her hardened older sister, Odessa. Because of her youth and innocence, when Arley marries Dillon, she is denied the conjugal visit guaranteed under Texas law and finds a public-aid lawyer, Annie Singer — a cynical New Yorker who has moved to Texas because her fiancé is a death-penalty lawyer — to sue the prison system.

Though Annie is successful, the real bond that develops is not between Arley and Dillon, who begins to frighten the teenager after their one night together, during which she conceives a child. Annie finds that her young client has become more to her than any of the women and children she has helped; she becomes a symbol for Annie’s own longing for family. And then, Dillon escapes from prison…

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The Deep End of the Ocean


When Beth Cappadora, a suburban mother and photographer, loses sight of her three-year-old son, Ben, at her fifteenth high-school reunion, not only does her life implode, her family’s does as well. Her husband, Pat, discovers cracks in the marriage where there were no apparent rifts before. More disturbingly, her older son, Vincent, who was supposed to hold on to his little brother’s hand, begins a lifelong descent, intent on proving he is as shameful and unlovable as he believes his parents consider him to be. Then, in what appears to be a miracle, the Cappadora family finds Ben, who has been raised and loved by a former classmate of Beth’s — a woman whose success as an actress has been a mask for madness and depression — and her husband, who adores Ben as his son. Ben has no memory of his family; he is heartbroken and lost. The Deep End of the Ocean asks the reader, is it true that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones? The authenticity of grief in the novel was informed by the death of my husband, a man whose big Italian family, like the Cappadoras, was in the restaurant business, and who died the year before I began to write the book. Are we who we are because of our genetics or because of what we remember?

My first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean was also the first pick for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and so catapulted me into a spotlight as a writer. That was an extraordinarily heady experience, but it set my compass for the kinds of books I would choose to write in the future. They may all be about ordinary people — people, as Jane Hamilton said of one of my books, who are already known to us before we meet them because they are not spies or movie stars or FBI agents, but the people next door — farmers, restaurant owners, bartenders, homemakers, teachers. The only difference between any of us and the Cappadoras is that they have been caught and stunned by extraordinary circumstances. They are everyday people who have experienced what was once called “the great lyric passage” in their lives that will change them forever.

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A Theory of Relativity


A Theory of Relativity, the most acclaimed of my novels, was inspired by “the blood relative case,” a real custody case that took place in a city near where I live. When his 26-year-old sister (who suffers from cancer) dies in a car accident with her husband, leaving behind a baby daughter, Gordon McKenna naturally believes he will adopt the baby girl, Keefer, whom he has helped raise. His hopes are dashed in an eight-minute hearing when a judge points out that Gordon, adopted as a newborn, is not a blood relative of Keefer’s and gives custody to a second cousin of the baby’s father. As Gordon fights an ultimately losing battle to become a father, he realizes that he has not yet become a man, and it is his growth as a human being that gives him the maturity, after two years of legal wrangling, to give Keefer up, rather than uproot her from the only home she has known. Fate, however, has other ideas. A Theory of Relativity does not only trace the struggles of one family, but asks the meaning of connection among the members of all families.

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Twelve Times Blessed


True Dickinson is an entrepreneur who runs a popular and successful baby company online — a service that delivers a present to both mother and baby each month for the first year of the baby’s life. (This company, by the way, now is on the brink of becoming a real company, run by one of my dearest childhood friends). She has a young son from her first marriage, on whom she lavishes all her love, and loyal assistants; but her own personal insecurity and mistrust have stopped her from ever having what she wants most: another love in her life.

All that changes when the younger man she has met earlier on the evening of her 43rd birthday, Valentine’s Day, rescues her from the snowy marsh into which her car has plunged during a Nor’easter on Cape Cod. That True and Hank Bannister are in love is beyond doubt. Whether True and Hank’s love can survive their impulsive marriage, her lack of faith, and True’s scheming mother is another question.

The most like a romance of any of my novels, Twelve Times Blessed is really about the possibility of love between generations, between traditions and on the cusp of a new century — when all the old rules no longer apply and good people struggle to create a set of new ones with which they can live and thrive. True Dickinson has been called the most “annoying” of all my protagonists, because she is insecure though she is successful. But I would argue that these two elements are often mutual in an individual’s life, and even that the very insecurity a person feels can lead her to success in the exterior world, while leaving her hollow in the personal realm. Or perhaps I simply know some really unusual people who are successful — because most of them have a thin crust of absolute confidence that overlays an abyss of self-doubt. The possibility of healing for that kind of person is perhaps an even more important thread in this story.

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Cage of Stars


This is the dilemma faced by Ronnie Swan, a sheltered young girl from a deeply religious family, whose childhood ends when she witnesses the murder of her two younger sisters. Not quite thirteen, Ronnie is babysitting on a bright fall day, hiding in the shed as she waits for her sisters to find her. Instead of their excited laughter, there is only silence. When Ronnie opens the door, it is to a sight that will crack her life in two. One minute a carefree girl, the next an over-burdened adult in a child’s body, Ronnie’s rage and grief burn down to a single hot coal: She will seek her own vengeance against Scott Early, a young graduate student from Colorado who suffers from schizophrenic illness. Given treatment instead of punishment, he has been spared the fate Ronnie believes that he deserves.

At first driven nearly mad with grief, Ronnie’s parents finally find peace in forgiveness, and can go on with their lives. Ronnie cannot. The beliefs that once were the rock beneath her feet have become the walls of her prison.

And so, when Scott Early is released from treatment to live with his wife and newborn baby daughter, Ronnie again becomes a changeling – this time deliberately. She relinquishes her home and identity to ingratiate herself with the Earlys, now living in California. But as Ronnie comes to know the family, she begins to struggle with what she once knew for a fact, that the Earlys must experience exactly what she and her parents endured, except without the element of violence. Headstrong in the logic of youth, Ronnie wonders if anyone who has caused such misery deserves joy, and if the baby girl is really safe with such a father, stable as he now seems. Her chance to act on her plan arrives; and Ronnie hesitates – just one moment too long.

It was this chance to grapple with a character’s moral struggle, and with those ancient questions (such as, do two wrongs make a right?) that gave rise to Cage of Stars. Ronnie is essentially prisoner to a universe in which right and wrong are clearly marked; but good and evil slip into shades of gray. I chose for her family to be Mormons because I wanted her to have been raised somewhat “apart” from the world, among traditions that others would find curious, but not so much as, for example, Amish folk. She needed to be both different from and fully engaged with the larger world. As both a Mormon and a country girl, innocent Ronnie seemed somehow even more vulnerable than a sophisticated girl would be.

As I did when I read about the events that later inspired The Deep End of the Ocean, I’m the one who always wonders, what happens afterward? What happens when the doors close, the friends go back to their own lives, and the stories disappear from the newspaper? That’s where I step in.

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Still Summer


When four friends who ruled the school twenty years ago gather for an idyllic sailing vacation – meant to comfort Olivia, who has returned home a widow after twenty years abroad – they expect two weeks of gossip, sunbathing and drinks with little umbrellas.

Instead, two days into their crossing, a single small mistake turns paradise a sun-baked hell.

The same elements that combined to make this trip an adventure in paradise combine in for survival. Surrounded by water, but with almost none to drink, with refrigerators filled with gourmet food rotting before they can used it, and a deluxe communication system ruined in an instant, the women must hide from the punishing sun and use all their strength and intelligence to try to outwit nature, their own demons and human predators.

What happens when friendship must face the ultimate test? Does the better nature prevail or is it everyone for herself?

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The Breakdown Lane


Julieanne Gillis is no snob, but she is pretty darn good at the business of living — so good that she makes a living advising the lovelorn, through her newspaper column, on what they might have done.

But Julie’s castle, with all its towers and spires, is made of paper, and it goes up in flames when her husband of twenty years, Leo, deserts her, twenty-first century style, leaving a desperate housewife truly deserving of the name, a woman who, though she is beautiful and gifted, has to face the sudden realization that the odd physical symptoms she’s been having are not little hints of being a fortysomething, but the opening bars of a terrifying opus, that will crescendo in Julie’s discovery that she has a serious, chronic illness.

Suddenly, her gifted but quirky son, her lovely but self-centered daughter, her confused preschooler and her best friend are Julie’s caretakers — a situation that wounds her pride and sears her heart.

Her older children take it upon themselves to use a ruse to cross country by bus to find their father, but what they discover is much worse that what they could have expected.

Julie’s fate seems sealed, but everyone underestimates the moxie and grit of this indomitable woman. Refusing to see herself as a tragic mope, Julie not only writes her way to a kind of glory, but finds unexpected joy and new love — while her husband, in fitting fashion, gets precisely what he set out to find, in spades.

The instruction manual on dumping a wife has been done, by John Updike and Olivia Goldsmith, among others. Julie’s story would be a cliché if it weren’t for the new face of duplicity and courage — which may be the face you see over your backyard fence, in the next car at your corner, or even in the mirror.

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Christmas, Present


Laura and Elliott are celebrating their 14th anniversary when a terrible headache strikes Laura while their car is stuck in Boston’s Sumner tunnel. Within hours, it becomes clear that Laura will not survive the rupture of a major blood vessel in her brain, and she must choose how she will spend her last hours on earth. She chooses to do that not bemoaning her fate, but gathering around her those she loves — her three young daughters, her husband and her siblings — so that she can tell them not what she feels, but what she sees in each of them, giving each a legacy to which they can cling after Laura is gone. Part tragedy, but part hopeful story of the survival of the spirit, perhaps even beyond death, Christmas, Present is a story for any season, and caused me to ask myself, while writing it, what parts of my own life were the things that matter most, the gifts I had been given and could give.

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No Time To Wave Goodbye


It seems like an easy choice, marketing-wise.

Why not write a sequel to my most successful novel—The Deep End of the Ocean? A follow-up to the first Oprah Winfrey Book Club book! Guaranteed readership, right? Wheeee!

In fact, I fought this decision even after my agent and my editor endorsed my idea as a book that could stand on its own. I loved my story. But I was wary. “Real authors,” except those gifted with a complex continuing character, don’t write sequels, thirteen years later. And I didn’t know if I could actually write about the Cappadoras, thirteen years after I created them.

So slowly, and haltingly, I began.

I feathered in the story in the first book – but didn’t re-tell it. The point was not the kidnapping and remarkable recovery of three-year-old Ben Cappadora, who came home, nine years later, to a family he didn’t remember. This was about the mother of both sons and the boy who truly was lost—Vincent, who let go of his brother’s hand. The first book closed with the family in an uneasy peace.

I thought I could leave them that way.

It’s true, whenever I gave a reading or taught a class or spoke on a panel, people asked me, “What happened to Beth and Pat? What happened to Vincent?”

And suddenly, in the midst of working on another book, I knew. I knew the story that would become No Time to Wave Goodbye, the book I hope you’re now holding in your hands. It was the most natural thing in the world.

The Cappadoras were part of my molecules.

Although I delight in researching something new—what my friend Karin Slaughter calls “what I know and what I want to know”—there was a special confidence and joy in going back, after a long time away. I returned to who I was and who I am – to the rhythms my west-side Chicago upbringing, the shouts of men and women hailing each other from their concrete stoops as the street lights came on, my father’s piercing whistle telling us to come in, baseball games that started in June and the score was 300 to 276 when school started. I heard the boys in brown leather jackets who sang doo-wop on summer nights even in the 1970s, the fathers in strappy t-shirts mowing the lawn, the church bells, the roar and clatter of the train bound for the Loop,. I smelled the wine and sugar in the gravy and the cordite of fireworks that weren’t illegal then. I felt my godmother Serafina’s soft hands as she measured me for a dress. There was a comfort in writing about big Italian men in handmade suits who would not think twice about giving the diamond on their pinkie rings to a friend – or about breaking the fingers of an enemy – about seeing altar boys rush into church in baseball cleats and the Christmas party at the Moose Lodge. The police. When a big truck crossed over the huge concrete bridge, just a hundred yards away, my bedroom windows rattled; my music box played a single note. My mother’s roses in their wooden boxes on the tar terrace outside our apartment. Her cologne … My Sin.

I grew up with the Cappadoras.

They are almost an alter-me.

I knew what could happen to the Cappadoras, so long and intimately in the public eye, reluctantly placed in that position again. I knew how they would react. I spent the next nine months with them in grateful struggle.

When I was finished, I had a book that made me happy. I had gone back to that place—those sounds and sights and voices—again, in No Time to Wave Goodbye.

I hope you’ll be happy you went back with me.

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Second Nature


Sicily Coyne got a second chance, a dozen years after a school fire disfigured her face and cost her firefighter dad his life. After a full-face transplant, Sicily, now 25, rushes hungrily toward life and love, and encounters a life-and-death complication no one could have predicted. Booklist’s starred review said that Jacquelyn Mitchard’s new novel, Second Nature: A Love Story, should come with a warning: “Make no immediate plans. This book will take over your life.” And Publishers Weekly called this “a riveting tale.” Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, said, “Jacquelyn Mitchard is back!”

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