Review of THE BIG SHUFFLE by Laura Pedersen (see her website)
Ballantine Books, October 2006
Hallie Palmer is away at college--getting drunk, playing strip poker, and flirting outrageously when her friend Bernard tracks her down. The news is bad--her father is in the hospital with coronary disease. By the time she gets to the hospital, her father is dead and her mother has gone comotose as a result of the stress. Hallie's life is abruptly turned upside down. Her older brother, Eric, is away at college with a full scholarship--and they'll need the income he'll soon be generating. Which leaves Hallie the logical choice to take care of the other eight, younger children.
Fortunately, the town rallies around--led by dozens of women with casseroles. Long after the casseroles are gone, though, their pastor continues to visit, helping with the children, pitching in with food preparation, and generally going way beyond the requirements of charity. Still, Hallie practically wishes she could go insane herself--and be sent to the rest home where her mother is recovering. When her semi-boyfriend announces he's dropped out of College--Hallie's dream--she unloads on him and their relationship is severed, leaving her simultaneously alone and surrounded by kids.
Author Laura Pedersen (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of woman's fiction by Pedersen) continues her examination of Hallie's life with a series of disasters. Still, Hallie's reactions, together with the antics of her friend Bernard and Bernard's mother Olivia (who has taken up with a Greek half her age), the pastor's good-natured Christianity, and the adventures of Uncle Lenny (who just might be Santa Claus) add humor to what could be a real downer of a story. Hallie learns about herself, her family, and her parents as she struggles to keep food on the table, keep laundry from swallowing the basement, and keep social services from swooping in and 'rescuing' her family by putting them into the foster care system.
Pedersen's strong voice and the dominant character of Hallie, together with a series of disasters and near-disasters, keeps up reader interest as Hallie continues to evolve as a character. The ending might be a little sweet for some tastes, but even the most critical will find a lot to enjoy here.
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