Gwendolyn Carter has played side characters in films and been in a bunch of commercials, but she’s really counting on landing a leading role that’s perfect for her. When she doesn’t get it, Gwen is a wreck. The timing couldn’t be worse, since she’s been guilted into going back to her hometown for her father’s birthday. Her relationship with her mother, Carol, is strained, so it’s the last place she wants to go and lick her wounds.
Things go from bad to worse when her parents tell Gwen that Carol has stage 4 lung cancer and ask her to stay. Because not only does Gwen have to try to meet her mom halfway when she tries to repair their relationship, but she has to do it all with Lila Machowicz right there watching.
Since Gwen left almost 20 years prior, Lila has been like a daughter to the Carters. And, more than being like a mom to her, Carol is Lila’s best friend, the two of them coaching the high school girls’ volleyball team together. With Gwen back in town, Lila isn’t sure how she fits with the Carters anymore.
But a funny thing happens during Carol’s final months. Not only does her relationship with Gwen finally start to heal, but Gwen and Lila start to fall for each other.
The character work in The Road Home is phenomenal and, for me, the best element of this book.
Gwen goes through a tremendous amount of growth and The Road Home feels very much like it’s her book. She starts out with a gigantic chip on her shoulder about her mom, and does a complete 180 by the end. She has so much baggage and we see her deal with all of it throughout the story.
Carol has already gone through a huge amount of growth before the book has begun, so with her, we instead see the effort she puts into reconnecting with Gwen while maintaining her strong connection with Lila. I also love how she nudges Gwen and Lila together, knowing that they’ll each need each other when she’s gone.
Lila doesn’t go through a massive character arc, which was fine by me. She’s fantastic just the way she is and is the reason I gave this a “Girl Next Door” tag. Her main growth is around becoming more confident coaching the girls at volleyball, since she’ll be going from assisting Carol to running the show.
The Writing Style
This. Damn. Book. Truly, it broke me. It’s so good and everything about the way it’s written works for me.
The other real standout, apart from the characters, is the way Zak shows that grief doesn’t only happen after someone dies, starting well before they’re gone because you know you’re going to lose them.
Everything. Every single thing about this book worked for me.
Not a con, but a content warning. The Road Home might be a tough read if you’ve recently lost a parent. I was overwhelmed by the feelings it provoked and I haven’t lost a parent. On the other hand, it might be validating for many people, so do what’s best for you.
This is a run, don’t walk, recommendation. The Road Home is one of the best books I’ve read this year and it’s Erin Zak’s best book. It clearly had so much love and pain poured into it, which was transformed into a beautiful, unforgettable story.
Excerpt from The Road Home by Erin Zak
“Gwen, honey, I want you to meet—”
Gwendolyn watches as her mother grabs a woman’s arm and swings her around. The impending doom is now simply doom. Coupled with pure unadulterated dread, the feeling is heavy in the pit of her stomach. Her oldest friend, the big green-eyed monster named Jealousy, is now alive and well, and unsurprisingly, he’s not happy at all.
“Lila Machowicz,” her mother finishes, the same dazzling smile spread across her lips as before. For some reason, a memory manifests of when she was small and completely enamored with her mother’s beauty. Watching her put on makeup, curl the blond hair she passed to Gwendolyn, brush her teeth. She was the most beautiful person in Gwendolyn’s life. If only things were still simple. “This is my Gwendolyn.” Her mother’s tone is one typically reserved for pride, which, truth be told, shocks her. This is Lila Machowicz, after all. The second chance daughter who saved Carol Carter from a life of thinking she was as bad at mothering as her mother was.
“Oh, hi,” Gwendolyn says, making sure to not extend her hand. She doesn’t want to feel Lila’s skin because she knows it will be soft and perfect, like the rest of her apparently is, according to every fucking person who knows her. Gwendolyn hates to sound dramatic, even though it is literally her forte, but Lila is breathtaking.
Her hair is auburn, maybe even chestnut, and it’s cascading in loose curls around her face, down over her shoulders, and goddamn, how is it so shiny? Her eyes are brown, so dark they’re almost black, and her makeup is simple. She is one of the most striking women Gwendolyn has ever seen in her life. And almost instantly, she cannot stand her. She isn’t super thin, but she is clearly an athlete, which Gwendolyn knew already. She’s had to hear about Lila living in her house, staying in her bedroom, going on family vacations, coaching with her mother for the past decade. She suppresses an eye roll as she lifts her beer. She takes a much longer pull than she probably should, but she needs her old pal Jealousy to calm down. She also needs the drunk feeling she’s been chasing all evening even more now.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
Well, fuck. Even her voice is perfect. Gwendolyn wants to glare. How dare she even have a perfect voice? None of this is what she expected.
Get This Book On Amazon
When you use the links in this review and buy from Amazon within 24 hours of clicking then we get a small commission that helps us run the site and it costs you nothing extra.
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 978-1635556339
- Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
- Erin Zak Online
If you enjoyed this book then you should also look at
Note: I received a free review copy of The Road Home by Erin Zak. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site.