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Unless

Unless - Carol Shields Reta Winters seems to have it all, a successful career as an author, a comfortable home, a loving relationship with her husband/not-husband and three daughters, and good friendship. However, when her oldest daughter, Norah, drops out of college and is found panhandling on a Toronto street corner wearing a sign with only the word Goodness printed on it, Reta's whole world is turned upside down. She starts to question everything she thought she knew about the world, particularly what it means to be a women in an era when many think there no place left for the feminist.

I thought this book was exceptional. I was immediately drawn in by both Reta and Norah's characters, who were of course the focus of the book. Reta's mother-in-law was also fascinating, as was Danielle Westermann, for whom Reta has done work as a translator. Tom, the husband, and the younger daughters, weren't quite as well fleshed out, but along with Reta's editor, they provided good background characters.

Many readers have stated they felt that they were beat over the head with the author's feminism and message, but I didn't get that impression at all. I thought that the author did a great job building on it. Early in the book, it's there as part of Reta's past and present, but it's only periphery to who she has become. As the book continues and she tries to unravel the mystery of why her daughter has chosen to abandon her life, her sense of who she is and what it means to be a woman today grows. What I loved about this in particular was how this evolution was depicted. It is through protagonist of the novel that Reta is writing, a sequel to simple chick lit she had released a couple years earlier, and letters that Reta writes, but never sends, in response to various articles and interviews that she reads, that we are shown how she changes internally.

I know I should point out the book's flaws, but to be honest, I didn't find any. I don't think that this is a book for everyone of course, in fact it may not be for most. I don't think that those who don't self-identify as a feminist or have a strong interest in women's role in the world will get much from this book. I think the author's style tends towards the literary, and that is also not everyone's cup of tea. However, it was beautifully written with strong characterization, and Shields is definitely an author I look forward to reading again.