What if you closed your eyes, blew out the candles, and your wish came true?
Ellie Jerome is a young-at-heart seventy-five-year-old who feels she has more in common with her twenty-nine-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, than her fifty-five-year-old daughter, Barbara. Ellie’s done everything she can to stay young, and the last thing she wants is to celebrate another birthday. So when she finds herself confronted with a cake full of candles, Ellie wishes more than anything that she could be twenty-nine again, just for one day. But who expects a wish like that to come true?29 is the story of three generations of women and how one magical day shakes up everything they know about each other. Fresh, funny, and delightful, 29 is an enchanting adventure about families, love, and the real lessons of youth.
I've had this one sitting on my shelves for a good while now it seems, but with my birthday coming up in just a few days, the candles on the cover of this one inspired me to finally pick it up.
29 starts with Ellie celebrating her 75th birthday but being kinda bummed about it, feeling like her life has largely been a waste. She's recently widowed, feeling like she never really and truly loved her husband, she has a difficult relationship with her daughter and finds herself envious of her granddaughter's seemingly carefree lifestyle. Ellie makes a wish on her birthday candles that she could be 29 again, just for one day, to once again (or maybe for the first time, really) feel like an attractive woman full of life. She wakes up the next day to find her wish has come true. While she admits she's been given an extraordinary gift, she can't help but feel guilty for wanting to run off and enjoy this new lease on life forever. But will the wish extend beyond one day?
I found this to be a cute, light story with some food-for-thought moments here and there but it didn't blow me away. I found Halpern's simile / metaphor game a little on the weak side and some of the dialogue I thought was a little clunky, a little too Hallmark movie for me.
I did find myself really liking the friendship between Ellie and her lifelong best friend, Frida. In the early parts of the novel, the reader is led to believe that Frida is the oblivious, feeble-minded sort but I liked that later on she shows that she's not as out of the loop as people seem to think. She still has an innocent nature to her, but the girl can hit you with some truth with her observances. I liked the conversation between them when Ellie asks Wouldn't you go back if you could? and Frida's all like "Nah, I've lived that life, and I lived it with my man, what fun would it be without him there with me?" I kinda melted a little over that :-)
My mother had a saying she used when speaking of her own best friend, Hester Abromowitz...I've always remembered this one thing my mother said about her, and I always thought it applied to Frida: It's not the friends who ride up with you in the limousine, it's the one who comes home with you on the bus.
Today, Frida took that bus and then some.
I did like how this book actually did have me thinking about my own grandmother a lot, wondering if she ever looks back on her life the way Ellie does, feeling like she missed out on things. It also made me a little sad that my grandmother and I have not had more opportunity to spend quality time together, at least not since I was a kid.
There was also something about this novel that made me think it could easily have a book-to-movie adaptation, maybe because of its similarity in theme to movies like 13 Going On 30. In the author interview after the novel's end, Halpern mentions that she has a masters in screenwriting and is married to a fellow screenwriter (and I'm guessing she bounced plot ideas off him here and there), so I guess that explains that! She also says something else in that interview, when asked about her own life regrets, where I thought, I feel ya! :
I'm never in a situation where I am required to wear a ballgown. This is a huge regret in my life.
But overall, this one was just alright for me, breezy but sadly, largely forgettable read. Not only that, but there were just a lot of moments that I was surprised to find brought down my mood while reading, what with all the life disappointments being hashed out. Maybe not the best pick for a birthday read, but still not a bad read.