What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell
Olivia has just divorced and feels she needs to return to her childhood home with her teenaged daughter and young son to face her memories, guilt and legacy. Ocean Vista, the New Jersey Shore town of her youth, is basically unchanged and the past floods to meet her at every turn. But she can’t wallow in nostalgia, her son Daniel has disappeared and she must find him.
The story is told in the present, the story of trying to find Daniel and struggling with his diagnosis as bi-polar at the age of nine, and Olivia’s past, her harrowing life as the only child of a severely mentally ill mother. Olivia is a strong character and as she becomes a young woman and begins to venture out into the world beyond the insulated home her mother has created for them she realizes how different her life is. Her friends don’t have a nursery set up in their home for two dead baby sisters, their mother’s don’t suddenly disappear for weeks at a time, and they know the real story of their family, a story Olivia doesn’t discover until she is a teenager.
At the core this is a story of the toll mental illness can have on a family and the struggle the afflicted and the ones who love them undergo. Olivia can easily identify with her son since she too suffers from the illness, never quite so severe and not as early onset as her son, but she gets him and is willing to stand by him since she feels she abandoned and never truly understood her own mother.
This is a great choice on audio. The accents of some of the characters really bring you down the shore.