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The Real Mother    by Judith Michael order for
Real Mother
by Judith Michael
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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*   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

Twenty-seven-year-old Sara Elliot leaves medical school when her mother suffers a debilitating stroke and is transfered to a nursing home. Sara assumes care of her half-siblings - Abby (15), Carrie (13), and Doug (10), and takes a job with the Chicago mayor's office to support them. Their nineteen-year-old, black-sheep brother Mack left years before, and the family still feels the effects of his abandonment. Sara tries to keep things together, but finds herself lonely and does not feel she's the mother the kids need.

Through her job, Sara meets businessman Ruben Lister and the two form a quick bond and relationship. Ruben has some skeletons in his closet - can his past be resolved to allow a relationship with Sara? And when Mack returns with a huge chip on his shoulder and grandiose promises for his younger siblings, will Sara be able to cope with one more complication? Though this is a fair family story, many things are unexplained and others are unbelievable. One example is the location of the kids' father. It's alluded to that he disappeared, but no one seems to be interested in him or his whereabouts, even when their mother is incapacitated and the children need a guardian. And it's never explained why Mack left in the first place, if his personality is changed upon his return, or if he was always a sociopath.

The interesting question explored by the novel is - what is a family? What makes a real parent? Through all of their struggles and problems, Sara and her siblings do come to discover the answers to these questions, but I found the story incredibly long and drawn out, without much substance or purpose. The dialogue is stilted and none of the characters act in a believable manner. The story would have been more interesting with some mystery and a few explanations. All in all, I found The Real Mother lacking in depth.

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