“Willow Brook Road” (2015) by Sherryl Woods
A Chesapeake Shores Novel; Fiction
“Crazy” multiple times, grief, loss, trauma mentioned, substance use (alcohol), mild suicide jokes, trichotillomania (hair pulling) language (‘they were ready to pull their hair out’).
Grief, loss, drama, romance, adoption, family, meddling, straight couples, marriage, meaning, childcare, attachment, starting a business, dreams, adversity, challenges, emotions, snippets of emotional abuse, manipulation painted as quirky, desperate needs for DEAR MAN’s, relationships, interpersonal effectiveness, small town, through the seasons (summer to autumn), Southern town, forgiveness, understanding, career paths, definitions of living a fulfilled life.
This novel follows Carrie Winters and the meddling of her near and extended family as she tries to uncover what her own unique career path is and whom she may fall in love with along the way. Sam Winslow moves into the town of Chesapeake Shores with the single intention of raising his nephew Bobby after a horrible car accident killed his sister whom he hadn’t spoken to in forever and her wonderful husband. Thrust into a world where they no longer exist and trying his best to raise a kid he barely knew and completely change who he was as a traveler and not being tied down with a home and family and wife, Sam and Carrie’s paths cross and a spark ignites, following them as they continue to interact with one another and Carrie’s family rejoices that this match may be its true potential, even as they want her to be careful or question if it’s a healthy dynamic.
As time goes on, and Carrie works on volunteering at a daycare out of town and growing her interests (both in love and in career), her family has to accept that this is where her heart is going and it’s what’s best for her. Carrie takes care of her sibling’s and cousin’s kids and her cousin, Susie, is struggling from having recovered from breast cancer and wanting a child of her own. When an adoption falls through, Susie becomes distant, envious and unlike herself. She reacts by lashing out at Carrie and others in the family, and hating Carrie for walking into a romantic relationship that involves a small child to begin with.
As the relationships crack and break and drama ensues, the novel follows Carrie and Sam’s relationship and everything else as it seems to crumble around them. In the end, love strives to win and the dust settles. Forgiveness is passed around and the novel ends on a hopeful and existential awareness note.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Something I liked about this book was the notion of taking on other people’s issues or relating too much to them in a way that is self-sacrificing or just causes problems. Like, it was super relatable to read about falling into those traps or falling into the notion of trying to “fix” or help others even if it’s at a cost to yourself. Carrie did this at times with Sam so that was just something I could relate to as a Reader.
Another thing I could relate to in this story was the working with kids thing. So, like, I work at a residential for trauma informed youth primarily ages 4 – 12 so the insights into dealing with traumatized kids, regular kids in general and just working with them or having to do right by them or keep them safe was super relatable. One of the characters on p. 113 at the daycare was still trying to figure out that balance between being stern and being nurturing which was something I could HUGELY relate to. It’s that fine line between getting taken advantage of and sticking to your limits. I liked that about this novel and learning a little from some fictional characters. That, that was cool. 😀😉😘
In addition to the above, p. 119, picking up on body language cues is also something I need a lot more work on and my therapist actually recommended in the last month (at the time of me writing this review it’s Feb. 2021) to do some research and learn about typical body language cues from children or warning signs that things are going awry. I’ll try to write that down some time soon to start reading up on and such. It’s funny because when I do creative writing I do a lot of body language cues and such even if in real life I’m a little unaware of it. Sometimes when I’ve worked in other environments on campus though I’ve managed to pick up on it and can work with it more hands on so it’s a work in progress, for sure. Ahaha
Carrie’s snarkiness within the novel was so lovely and refreshing at times!! 😁🤣
Something that I also really loved and appreciated and stuck out to me was when Sam was waiting on Carrie to express what it was that was bothering her (which happens on p. 257). His patience was ever present and he was willing to be there for her because she needed it and it was just SO sweet and wonderful. He waited for her to be ready and that was just so lovely. 💜💜
Towards the end of the novel, Sam’s low self-esteem, low self-worth (from a traumatized childhood he had) is revealed as well as his own self-fulfilling prophecies that work against him to keep him away from Carrie and love and happiness that he feels he doesn’t deserve. It’s a note that he finds from his sister that restores his faith in the relationship he was developing with Carrie which was such a beautiful progression and I wish more of the novel could have focused on this and humanizing Sam and making him into really the main character he was supposed to be. All this drama with Carrie’s cousin Susie and everything took away from the heart of the matter, which I felt sucked a lot. I feel like if Sam’s history and his growth could have been focused on more and how he was handling these matters that were against him would have made a far better story to tell.
B. WEAKNESSES/Things I had issues with:
Emotional manipulation and streaks of gaslighting is painted as quirky and desirable because it’s coming from “family.” Meddling is seen as natural and something to be put up with, as if family cannot be toxic, neglectful or abusive. The book understands that this does happen and has happened to people within its pages but still paints this viewpoint that because it’s coming from a caring, loving place that it’s acceptable, okay and should be put up with.
Also, there are the traditional views of women in Western society that they should have a family with a husband and children in order to have a fulfilling life. There’s the notion that having a romantic partner is a goal in life, implying potentially that not having that is just as unexplored as anything else. This rubbed me the wrong way.
The drama in the book was present about 85% of the time and the romance only 15% which sucked because I was there for the romance. This is the third full book I’ve read by this author and I was pretty disappointed by it, sadly. I’ve never read the others in this series so maybe that affected my judgment as I could see some things as disastrous and problematic than maybe I would had I gotten to know the other characters better instead of walking in in the middle of a scene, so to speak. I also felt that it was an emotional roller coaster of a ride and I dreaded it a lot of the time and a lot of my symptoms of BPD came out with it (idolization of characters, demonization of characters, mood swings, attachments, etc.) I definitely went through waves of this book: I liked it at first, I disliked it, I hated it, I despised it, I loved it, I wanted to quit on it, I was still attached and involved, I started to like it again, I was disappointed as I finished it. It was a LOT. Just exhausting, really.
There was also this idea that Susie’s emotional abuse was something to put up with when really it just made me think of her as a bitch later evolved into a…well, not the most flattering of words. Let’s just say she became like a “mewling quim”. I hated her character and groaned every time she came on board. Her and Carrie’s reconciliation was not discussed explicitly which I would have liked because maybe I was being too harsh on her and despising her greatly, again this notion that because she was hurt she had the right to emotionally abuse her cousin was horrible, horrendous and a dangerous ideal, and I would have appreciated understanding more from her perspective and seeing why and how Carrie could forgive her. Carrie was far more forgiving and understanding than I would have been and really, really needed a DEAR MAN in her life. It was super frustrating and I almost quit the book entirely because of Susie’s bitterness, refusal to handle her emotions in an appropriate and healthy manner because she was hurt and hurting and that still gave her no right to be a bitch towards her loved ones. Ugh. Fuck Susie.
Manipulation by the family was painted in a “oh, that’s just them/that’s so cute” which was really dismaying and awful. It was like toxic positivity. It was super frustrating and definitely NOT something that even because it’s family is something you have to put up with. Ugh, no.
I think the novel could have worked with fancier page breaks than just simple spacings but maybe that’s just me. I also found the notion of all this manipulation and meddling as endearing was missing the mark in this book and it is a theme in some of the other novels I’ve read by Sherryl Woods but for this one it really rubbed me the wrong way and made the experience bitter and I really, really almost quit for real (but I can’t fathom not giving a book a chance so I’ll continue no matter how much I hate it!!).
On p. 146: We are introduced to the idea that a happy and fulfilling life is mainly one where a person has a love interest and isn’t alone (and down the line has a family of children and kids of their own). I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this exactly because I don’t know if it’s a good idea to paint the notion that romantic relationships and families are the only sound ways to live a happy and fulfilling life. Like, why can’t independence and “being alone” be okay, too? It’s just never really explored and I think it’s a little exclusive to only certain types of people that have to share those points of view and understanding about the world. To me, it’s like traveling the world. Some people where that’s integral to that part of their life love it and can’t imagine life without it and at the same time, will think a life without that is boring or not as complete. I personally am content with where I’m at and don’t feel the need to have to travel. And sometimes that perspective is painted as ordinary or not as good as traveling or having the family or having a partner, etc. Also, I don’t know if Woods ever writes about non-straight couples because I’d be very interested to read about that than just the traditional family views. But, maybe that’s just me!! 😛
Aaaa, yes, by page 155 we really live in the age and the thirst for meddling by the family and it’s painted as endearing when in reality it’s manipulative, overstepping boundaries and is super frustrating at least from my perspective of being the Reader in this novel. 😤🤬 This continues on p. 156 where it’s explicitly said that the meddling is typical and expected even though it’s not wanted. And when in reality it’s not something that has to be put up with just because “it’s family.”
Another thing I found super frustrating was Carrie’s lack of self respect and voicing her concerns about things or effectively managing her interpersonal relationships (sticking up for herself, saying what’s on her mind, saying what she’s comfortable or uncomfortable with, being true to herself and where she’s at, expecting people to “just know” rather than telling them) etc. She totally could use some help with DBT skills like DEAR MAN, GIVE and FAST. It was super aggravating.
Susie, (I hate to gripe on her more but…), had a problem with being manipulative and then playing the victim when things didn’t go her way or her ruthlessness was met with a broken record from Carrie and Carrie trying to keep her distance from her melting over cousin. Susie particularly shone like this on pages 276 – 277 and probably a little more beyond that. It was so annoying. Around this page I also felt that Carrie had an advantage because she knew more context about her cousin Susie than I did as a Reader. So I had all these mixed feelings about things but was still strong in my dislike for Carrie’s cousin. I still felt resentful on behalf of Carrie. We never get a full on scene of the apology which I would have benefited from greatly had there been one so that was additionally disappointing. I would have liked to read that. I think it would have helped to repair my relationship with Susie and understand where she was coming from instead of just glossing over that and having Carrie move on and forgive so easily and what seemed to be as unjustifiably. On p. 278 Carrie does in fact forgive and says to forget what Susie had said but really, I don’t. I still don’t think being hurt and in pain gave Susie the right to be abusive towards her family, especially when they had very little to do with it. Her lashing out at her cousin just wasn’t it. I hated how much the novel revolved around her and her drama rather than some ooey gooey romance stuff. Grrr.
I also think that not so much “hitting girls” is wrong, but just hitting anyone in general, regardless of their gender or gender identity is something we should be more strict about. Like, hitting a girl isn’t great but a girl hitting a boy or a boy hitting a boy, etc. also shouldn’t be condoned as okay or right, you know? It’s not like boys can’t be abused or assaulted too, and this notion that they can’t or it’s not on people’s minds first off is something we have to work on in society. (This comes up on p. 317).
What really helped me most towards all this hatred and despised nature I had towards Susie was actually in real life Mandy Harvey’s music, in particular her two songs: “Try” and “This Time“. These two songs really got me through my anger and my intense emotions as I grappled with the nature of this novel and all the feelings it brought up. They just diffused the situation right away and I could listen to them on repeat while I read and it gave me a chance to take a deep breath and just let it go as I continued onward. I am glad that I managed to finish this book, even if it was a hurricane of a time, but apparently I still managed to remember quite a bit of it as I did the review process, so, that at least was nice. Yeah, just, ranting and raving about this book and being so upset by it was tough but it’s over now and once this publishes, I can really wipe my hands clean. And I’m ready for that. I’m excited for that. It’s what I wanted all along. 💚💚💚 Peace, at last.
What Kept Me Reading & the Book’s Impact on Me:
Definitely my intense levels of being stubborn kept me reading this book. I refuse, no matter how good or how bad a book is, to give up on it half-way through. Not only have I become invested with my time, my attention span, my mind and my craft, but I refuse to let the book make or break me. By that point, I want to see it through all the way. I can’t fathom giving up and not giving it a chance. I hold onto hope that it gets better and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but a lot more of the time it DOES. The satisfaction I can feel and the fulfillment that I got through it, no matter what, is something I want to give back to myself at the very end. The moment I can shut the book and sigh and then just plow through its review is immense and such a relief (even if more of the time I’ve written up reviews that I have yet to publish. It’s… a work in progress). And again, a lot of the time I will like a book, then dislike it for a bit (usually because I’m not reading it or not able to focus well enough for it) and then by the end I have liked it again. I usually have so much to say about the books I read that it’s only mandatory that I write a review of it.
For this book, again, I managed to remember quite a bit of what happened in it so I’m proud of that and I’m so happy to be letting it go again soon. My plan is to return this book and TAoCL tomorrow at the library so I can finally let go and say goodbye. It is so nice to be able to do that. To stick with something no matter how good or bad it is and know that you did everything you could to get through it and in the end, whether it was a happy or a doubtful experience, it’s done and it’s over and you gotta move on to the next one. For this book, I’m glad it’s over, I hope I never hear of another Susie again in a Woods novel and I can’t wait to uncover some of my other Woods books from the libraries that I’ve loaned them from. For now, I think I will settle on a psychological thriller I’ve had in my possession for over a year, haha.
- “Everybody has problems. Some are worse than others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter to the people trying to get through them” — Woods, 2015, p. 31
2. “He’d vowed not to show any sign of weakness in front of his nephew. Bobby needed to believe in [Sam]” — Woods, 2015, p. 43
I think it’s pretty arguable that emotions and grief are not weaknesses and instead showing them is a sign of immense strength.
3. “‘[Carrie to her Grandpa Mick] You mean I’m letting you down yet again…. Sorry, I guess I’m just destined to be a huge failure in your eyes'” — p. 217
Honestly in this exchange, Grandpa Mick was a total asshole and the hurt and pain in Carrie’s body language and words was SO palpable. It also hugely reminded me of Loki in the MCU and just in my fanfics as well. It was so rough. It definitely also reminded me of his relationship with his not-father Odin, too. It also made me think how much Loki, as well as Carrie, needed to verbalize their pain more. 💔💔💔
4. “[Sam to Carrie] ‘I’ve already made mistakes.’ [Carrie] ‘Find me one human being who hasn’t. Or one parent who hasn’t made a boatload of them…. Mistakes are part of life. It’s what you do to fix things that really matters'” — p. 266
I thought this was just SO beautiful and really captures the romance which was what I was here for. I’m so annoyed that Susie and the other drama was the main focus of the novel and not just nurturing and blossoming this love interest. If it had been, I would have rated it a lot higher and it would have been a far more pleasant experience. Instead I just despised Susie and hated her so much.
5. “‘You can’t fix this,’ Bobby said to Sam, clearly resigned to suffering alone. His attitude made Sam want to cry. No six year old should be feeling this defeated. ‘Fix what? Maybe I can’t, but you have to tell me so I can at least try'” — p. 290
I really loved this scene and thought it was so poignant and something I have to try out at work some time!! The notion of this tactic to be honest and yet problem solving is so huge and something any kiddo struggling needs to hear. 💔🖤🖤
6. “As Sam’s sister had told him [in her letter], it was time for him to start running toward something, rather than away from it. People who loved deeply got hurt. They suffered terrible losses. It was unavoidable. But loving deeply was the only way to truly live” — p. 372
Again, I’m not entirely sure how much I agree with this statement. In some ways, yes, I can understand it, but I’ve also not been a person who has had a long lasting or much of a lasting romantic relationship and I don’t have plans to have a family of children one day with a partner so I don’t know how much I can relate to or agree with it. I think being alone can be okay and not wanting traditional values is also okay. I feel like saying it’s the ONLY way to live a happy life is a bit insensitive and not all that inclusive. I think there are multiple ways to live a fulfilling and happy and healthy life beyond just having a partner (especially in a straight, heterosexual world only) and having kids and a family. I guess my avoidance patterns of behavior is blocking me from exploring this so much right now, especially since there’s a worldwide pandemic happening and I can’t exactly meet up with people for romance, let alone just my friends. It’s something I’ll have to explore one day but not for now. I do suppose it’s that notion of “to love at all is worth it even if you’re not loved back”. Hmm. I’ll have to mull this one over more.
There’s the additional quote later on where Sam says he’s ready for love to win over fear–I’m definitely not there yet in my life. Fear still trumps a lot in my life so maybe one day when I’m freer I can experience more of these benefits of life. I think I’ve gotten very used to being “on my own” or not having the backup of an emotional relationship like romance and so I’m more attuned to self-sustaining behaviors and ideals rather than opening myself up to putting someone else’s needs besides my own first. I guess I’m just in a different place than most.
Wandering Thoughts I had while reading/Extra Notes:
- p. 154: Equivocal and vocalized are nice words
- p. 165: That’s definitely NOT what a threesome means and why does Carrie have to change because of someone else’s opinion of her and her influence in the setting with Sam and Bobby? I don’t think that’s particularly necessary and maybe something she should be more critical of and wary against
- p. 167: I don’t understand why Carrie cares so much about what other people think. She takes the notion that Bobby may be attaching to her in an unhealthy way as fact when really it’s because she is nervous about falling in love with Sam and can’t separate the fact that other people’s opinions are just opinions and not something she has to change for her own sanity. I think she used the opportunity as an excuse to not get close to Sam or Bobby further until she could figure out what her intentions were and where she would be going with them. Which, was too bad at the time.
- p. 168: Shows a good indication of manipulation with good intentions where Sam wants Carrie to stay with him for the evening keep him company with food and wine. Carrie is conflicted and definitely sending him mixed signals so this is annoying in one part and also an indication that Carrie needs to pick a side and stick with it. She struggles with this though and being clear about her intentions and what she wants and doesn’t want and is easily influenced by others. 🙄
- p. 174: There is not a capital letter after a dialogue exclamation which I found interesting and will try to remember when I use similar wording/typography in my own work (my grammar/technical writing has become so awful since being out of school). “For example!” she muttered.
- p. 185: Reminded me that I should (as of Sept. 2020) work on my fanfics and my memoir! I’m at a mixed state with this. I haven’t touched my memoir in months and I’m working in and out of different fanfics and a new creative writing endeavor I’m on at the moment of writing this review (Feb. 2021).
- p. 216: There’s this notion with Susie and Carrie that taking care of other people’s children will never fully replace their need for having one of their own. For me, I find that it fills that pretty well (but I also don’t want children myself) and having the work I do gives me my fill of children and allows me to be able to go home and do what I normally would be doing without being bogged down with other matters. (Also it freaks me out that you don’t know what kind of human you could be creating and what if they become like a serial killer or a horrible person? I don’t want to get murdered. And it’s such a lifelong endeavor. Meh, not for me. I can have pets sure but I’m not all that inclined to have to have children.)
- p. 237: In regards to Carrie and Susie’s now estranged and strained relationship, I would NOT be as quick as Carrie to forgive her cousin because no matter how much pain she is in (Susie) that gives her NO right to be cruel and emotionless towards her family members (or even strangers!). I just wouldn’t forgive her right away and wouldn’t want to be around her for a while. Susie was being SUCH a bitch. That doesn’t give her an excuse just because she was hurting. On top of that, Carrie needs to confront the issue and practice a DEAR MAN and also not be alone with her thoughts.
- p. 308: There’s a nice “rise and fall” of chest reference here which made me go (●’◡’●) because of the innerworkings of being a cardiophile. 😙🤗🤩
- By p. 320 I was feeling exhausted and annoyed that the book felt far more like 90% drama and 10% romance. This constant back and forth between Sam and Carrie was just so ugh, eye roll worthy. Every time they made some progress, something else would slide back against them. And it wasn’t like there was a lot of pages left for the novel so it definitely ended prematurely and without having a saturated amount of romance throughout. It was definitely a bust for me. Which sucked. I’d invested so much into a story that just didn’t have a significant payoff. Surprisingly though, I still remember a good chunk of it so that helped in part of making this review–hooray, I suppose?
- p. 363: I noted that about 85% of the time I didn’t understand why Carrie was mad 😂
- p. 379: The very end of this novel ends on a super existential awareness point of view that I honestly could have happily gone without. It ends with Mick’s perspective and was just too real, too soon, too much and immensely depressing and sad while also layered with a sense of hope, lingering feelings, family and love. It was a whirlwind for sure. It was also a bit horrifying. And just very surreal to think of life and the end of life and all of that jazz. 😨😭🤪
Dates I read this book:
4.5.2020, 4.7, 4.8, 6.18, 9.17, 9.18, 9.21, 9.29, 9.30, 10.1, 10.4, 10.5, 10.8, 10.9.2020
Dates I wrote this review:
10/12/20, 2.22.2021, 2.25.21
Any background music: “This Time” by Mandy Harvey, ambient nature sounds, a mix of songs including Demi Lovato, Shawn Mendes etc.
Annnnnnnnd so, we have made it to the end of this review!! This was more of a traditional book review for me and I surprisingly did not have a super lot to say regarding quotes and I originally had it set with this thumb above so I didn’t feel the need to make it into more of a “Book Exploration Station” post. So, you’re welcome for that! It was still about 4,800 words but by far simpler and not as intense and complicated as my latest TAoCL review/BES. So for now, I’m going to go to a support group and I’m gonna have dinner, take my meds, read a book and begin another review so that I can drop off books tomorrow to their respective libraries. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading!! Feel free to share this post across social media and let me know what you thought! I’m planning to get back into the blogosphere very soon. For now, I also have some print-outs for work I have to manage and some watered down versions of my fanfics for a kiddo at work I’m sharing with. As well as that creative writing story I am working on with them since this past week and on towards Sunday as well.
Thank you so much and I’ll see you again soon.
PS I really need to work on videos too, ooof. It’s a process. I’ll try to soon.
All the best, my friends.