When It Happens to You is by Molly Ringwald, who starred in some of my favourite movies from the 1980s, including Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, where she got to kiss some of the cutest boys in Hollywood at the time. Lucky, lucky girl. It turns out she can write well, too.
When It Happens to You is a collection of short stories featuring characters whose lives are linked. The first story, The Harvest Moon, introduces Greta, her husband Phillip, their six-year old daughter Charlotte, and Charlotte’s violin teacher. Greta and Phillip have been unsuccessfully trying for another baby, although in my opinion Charlotte is a bit of a brat and would put most people off wanting more children.
What is uncovered in the first story sets the scene for the following stories. Redbud features Greta’s mother, who is doing her best for her drug-addicted grandson, while My Olivia is about a single mother from Charlotte’s school whose son wants to be a girl. Ursa Minor introduces an actor who was sacked from his job on a children’s show after proving to be an inappropriate role-model, and The Little One an elderly neighbour who is befriended by Charlotte. Other members of Greta and Phillip’s extended family have their own roles to play in other stories.
The stories can all be read separately, but together they add up to create a full and moving story of a time in Greta, Phillip and Charlotte’s lives. They are told from different points of view, which adds impact and layers to the story as a whole.
The stories deal with some big issues, infertility, adultery, middle age, loneliness, old age, grief, gender issues, family tensions and as I mentioned earlier, horrible children. The characters and their lives felt real to me from the beginning.
When It Happens to You is Molly Ringwald’s first novel. I hope she writes more.