Author: Mary Helen Sheriff
Writing fiction about difficult, emotional, real world topics while maintaining an overall light tone is a tough ask. Too far in one direction and the story gets too heavy, in the other it’s inappropriately breezy. While a lot of authors choose to use dark humor or absurdity to maintain a balance between dark and light, Mary Helen Sheriff goes a different way in her novel Boop and Eve’s Road Trip.
Boop and Eve are grandmother and granddaughter, both living in Florida. Boop (actual name Betty) is retired; Eve is in her first year of college. Eve’s mother, Justine, chose the college specifically so that Boop could keep an eye on her daughter. And that tells you a little something about Justine.
Eve is struggling – with her classes, friends, even her best friend and cousin who now lives in California. She’s slipping away to a place Boop knows well and this grandmother wants to help before she slides too far. The pair decides that rather than fly back home to Virginia at the end of the school year (and for Boop’s shoulder surgery) they will take a road trip! Both have ulterior motives and Justine is livid, but off the go in Boop’s old car, to visit places novel and familiar, and maybe exorcise a few demons.
This multi-generational trio of women is dysfunctional to its core, and each member is carrying a painful and life-affecting secret. None of them realize how enmeshed their miseries really are because they don’t communicate about feelings; they just butt heads over actions (or inactions) and imagined slights. It takes a family crisis outside their unhealthy circle to push all three out of their individual shadows.
None of this sounds light at all, but it is. Boop and Eve’s Road Trip is told mainly through the eyes of Boop, a southern woman with both the maturity and fallibility that comes with age. She loves her daughter and her granddaughter but is often at a loss when dealing with either. She gets flustered or frustrated and makes a lot of mistakes as she tries to guide Eve through the murky waters of a burgeoning depression. But her heart is pure and she’s the embodiment of the term “means well”.
Author Sheriff decides to deal with her difficult topics – depression, guilt, shame, and loss – by having the road trip provide a framework that offers distraction and solutions at the same time it opens wounds and exposes secrets. The combination of that framework and Boop’s bumbling goodness sets a tone almost like a cozy mystery – we don’t look quite as deeply at the painful bits but we have more fun in the process.
I really enjoyed Boop and Eve’s Road Trip. It’s got both lightness and substance and turned out to be exactly what I needed in 2020. I’ve started a lot of books over the past six months, but this is one of the very few I’ve finished. I loved Boop even when her southern accent didn’t ring quite true, and felt like Eve’s struggle with depression was portrayed clearly if not entirely realistically. The book is not a deep dive into any of the characters’ problems, and solutions perhaps come a little too easily, but sometimes that’s what we want and need from a story. Try the book if you’d like to travel outside this moment for a while and into one that feels more hopeful and manageable.
Thanks to She Writes Press for sending me an Advanced Reader Copy of Boop and Eve’s Road Trip.