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Play Dates    by Leslie Carroll order for
Play Dates
by Leslie Carroll
Order:  USA  Can
Avon, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Claire Marsh is a single mother in her twenties living in New York. Her precocious six-year-old daughter ZoŽ keeps her hopping throughout Play Dates. Shortly out of high school, Claire married one of her instructors from the Thackeray Academy, the private school that she and her older sister Mia attended. A few years after ZoŽ was born, Claire's husband left her, shockingly, for an older woman. Claire kept their apartment, but lost her housekeeper/nanny and has to work for a living - for the first time in her life. Unfortunately, her art history college education is not an asset in the job market. She takes a stab at part-time work with limited success, and is exhausted from the financial strain and time demands of single motherhood.

While Claire's ex does pay child support and Claire's parents pay for ZoŽ's expensive private school education (keeping with family tradition, she attends Thackeray) along with ZoŽ's assorted after school activities (think Bikram yoga, karate, and other cultural activities for the well-to-do New York set), there just does not seem to be enough time or money to go around. Claire, accustomed to an upper-class lifestyle, feels pressure to provide a similar experience for her daughter. And ZoŽ, being a somewhat typical six-year-old, cannot understand why things are so difficult after the divorce. She wants her mother to be more like her Aunt Mia, a single, childless and unencumbered makeup artist who loves her niece and is not burdened by having to play mommy.

Mia takes ZoŽ on fun outings such as seeing The Nutcracker Ė something Claire would like to do if only she could afford it and get time off from her part-time job of the moment (child-related emergencies, scheduling conflicts, and various mishaps make managing a part-time job difficult for Claire). Claire is tired. She's stressed. She has no love life whatsoever. She finds the other moms she knows through ZoŽ's school and extracurricular activities incredibly snobbish. Even planning a birthday party Ė something that would seem to be a relatively simple affair Ė is typically hugely expensive and extravagant for ZoŽ's classmates and friends. Claire is having trouble competing with the 'upper crust set'. Having been humbled by her divorce and sketchy financial situation, she is enlightened when she realizes that perhaps she does not want to play the game of keeping up with the Joneses.

The story is told from Claire's perspective, with glimpses of ZoŽ's and Mia's thoughts through their respective journal entries. While I found it a bit too long and not a stand out book in the chick lit genre, I was entertained by reading about Claire and how she keeps her life afloat and cares for ZoŽ at the same time. Claire is a likeable character, and I enjoyed the perspectives of little ZoŽ and of Claire's zany sister Mia, as well as her interesting parents (her father is a poet laureate and her mother a fashion designer). The novel wraps up on a happy note, and while it is predictable, it is also a satisfying ending. While the book is directed toward the mommy set, most fans of chick lit will enjoy Play Dates.

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