The mother is psychotic, the single 28-year old sister (aunt to the children) suffers low self esteem, the 11-year old daughter is unbearably precocious, the 15-year old son is angry-rebellious, and the father has been gone for years. Only the skillful writing of Miriam Toews can make the story of a family ravished by mental illness be an interesting read. The mother of two children is committed to an mental hospital, and the task of caring for her two children falls to her younger sister. This younger sister decides to set out on a long cross country trip with the two children to find their long absent father. Through the telling of the story of this trip we learn that the past family history is filled with its share of problems. The trip itself has plenty of stressful moments, disgusting behavior, and unwise decisions. The 15-year old son is particularly unbearable, but it is he who in the end teaches an insightful lesson to his aunt. It's an attitude lesson from playing basketball, but the aunt understands that it can be applied to her life. She decides that it will be the way she'll carry on with life. Readers who make it to the end of the book are rewarded to an optimistic ending (but not a happily-ever-after sort of ending).
Below are two quotations from the book that I have added to my favorite quotes:"Conversing with children is a fine art.... An art form that demands large amounts of both honesty and misdirection. Or maybe discretion is a better word." "When I opened up the bottle of wine, Thebes said whoa, you yanked that cork out of there like you were saving it from drowning. She got out her markers and drew a screaming face on the cork."