29 by Adena Halpern
Reviewed by Lori Twichell
Genre: Fantasy, chick lit, humor, drama
Publisher: Touchstone Books
Publication Dates: June 15, 2010
Gravity is not kind. Nor is it a respecter of persons. Seriously. That’s one of the first messages that we learn when we pick up 29. We learn that and the fact that Ellie Jerome cusses when she’s grumpy. (No, this is not a Christian book – so be aware of that when you pick it up.) She’s grumpy these days more often than not because she does not like being old. So on her 75th birthday, she wishes that she could have a do-over. She’d like to be 29 again for just one day. And the next morning when she wakes up, she is. Twenty-nine. Better than that? It’s a pre-baby 29 year old body even though in her first go round, she’d already had a baby. Who wouldn’t love that?? I know I wouldn’t mind having less wiggles and jiggles at the pool in the summer.
So can you guess what happens next? Chaos ensues. With only ‘old woman’ clothes and an ‘old woman’ life, Ellie tries to maneuver the vastly different world of young people nearly half a century after she was that age. Trips to the bakery, dress shop and even underwear shopping are vastly different. (To be honest, they’re vastly different that they were when I was 29 and that was nowhere near fifty years ago!) When Ellie tries to find a pair of blue jeans in her closet and get dressed for the first time as a gorgeous 29 year old woman in a senior citizen’s wardrobe, it’s definitely LOL worthy. (That’s laugh out loud for all you non-interweb savvy folks…) That’s just the beginning of the tale too. Ellie’s trek through this 24 hour period of being a young woman again is absolutely hilarious.
I was expecting a standard time travel story along the lines of Freaky Friday or one of the other myriad films/books with subject matter devoted to going back in time. Instead, I found one of the most delightful and entertaining journeys I’ve had in a long time. For those who are sensitive to such things, there is some language in the book and very honest discussion about physical relationships and attributes. (I warned ya, it’s not Christian literature by any stretch.) It’s not overwhelming, but it is present. And still the story resonates with deeper issues than saggy parts, gravity and gray hair.
Halpern’s brutal honesty about aging and the feeling of regret that one can carry through life is tempered by wry humor and a beautiful exploration of what makes each person the way that they are. How is it possible for Ellie’s daughter to be so difficult for the world to get along with while her own daughter, Lucy, seems to be loved by all? Does it just skip a generation? Is it something in the genes? Or something we create?
As I was reading, I wondered how it was that Halpern had captured the relationship between my own family and I so succinctly. Honestly I felt like she must have hidden a camera somewhere for the past three generations and then suddenly wrote a story about it and brought everything to light. I was amazed at how what I thought would be such a fun, lighthearted romp could take such a turn as to be introspective and heart wrenching as well. The relationships between mother and daughter throughout the generations were explored with just enough insight as to give me pause about my own relationships without being heavy handed or preachy.
Though I started reading prepared for humor and a fun ride, I was surprised at the end by the depth of emotion involved. Rather than just throwing all of her previous decisions in life to the wind and embracing everything wild and crazy, Ellie became introspective. She spent time wondering how her daughter had gotten to be the way that she is and how could Ellie better get along with her? It became much more of a mending and healing journey than just a romp through younger years without consequences. Never heavy handed, she handles hard subject material with grace and style.
29 is the perfect book to tuck into your bag for a read at the beach or for a long car trip. Halpern’s story delights, entertains and may even change your opinions about the relationships in your own life.