The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke: A Review

Happy Monday! This was a crazy/busy weekend for us, especially since I spent a big part of it prepping to begin my Whole45 today, but it looks like this week is going to be a bit slower. I'm looking forward to a little relaxation!

If you're also in need of a pick-me-up, might I suggest a book? That's my prescription for all the stressful things in life, and today I'm sharing my review of Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke's lovely third novel, The Year We Turned Forty.

Get your wallets ready, guys. You're going to want to head to Amazon when we're done here.

The Year We Turned Forty: A Summary

If you could repeat one year of your life, what would you do differently? This heartwarming and hilarious novel from the authors of The Status of All Things and Your Perfect Life features three best friends who get the chance to return to the year they turned forty—the year that altered all of their lives, in ways big and small—and also get the opportunity to change their future.

Jessie loves her son Lucas more than anything, but it tears her up inside that he was conceived in an affair that ended her marriage to a man she still loves, a man who just told her he's getting remarried. This time around, she’s determined to bury the secret of Lucas’ paternity, and to repair the fissures that sent her wandering the first time.

Gabriela regrets that she wasted her most fertile years in hot pursuit of a publishing career. Yes, she’s one of the biggest authors in the world, but maybe what she really wanted to create was a family. With a chance to do it again, she’s focused on convincing her husband, Colin, to give her the baby she desires.

Claire is the only one who has made peace with her past: her twenty-two year old daughter, Emily, is finally on track after the turmoil of adolescence, and she's recently gotten engaged, with the two carat diamond on her finger to prove it. But if she’s being honest, Claire still fantasizes about her own missed opportunities: a chance to bond with her mother before it was too late, and the possibility of preventing her daughter from years of anguish. Plus, there’s the man who got away—the man who may have been her one true love.

But it doesn’t take long for all three women to learn that re-living a life and making different decisions only leads to new problems and consequences—and that the mistakes they made may, in fact, have been the best choices of all…

The Year We Turned Forty: What I Think

The whole premise of the novel - the idea of turning back time and getting a do-over on our biggest messes - is appealing, to say the least. I think everyone has wondered what that would be like and in The Year We Turned Forty, we get to see first-hand just how complicated such an opportunity would be...for everyone involved.

Gabriela, Claire, and Jessie have been best friends for decades and their friendship is a strong, united one. This is made possible less by similarities in circumstance or personality and more by shared experiences. Some of those experiences have been nothing short of devastating. The loss of a mother. The rebellion of a daughter. Infertility. A child conceived in an affair. Divorce. 

As a reader, it was initially a lot to take in and I struggled to keep up with each character's respective relationships. But the authors (who have also been best friends for decades) did a truly wonderful job of merging their voices, especially with such a complex narrative, and eventually I fell into sync with Gabriele, Claire, and Jessie. 

What I loved most about this book was that it didn't follow the path of least resistance. The Year We Turned Forty could have easily become just a whole lot of fluff, and while there was certainly a little bit of that (a random magician gives three women a chance to travel back ten years, for goodness' sake), there is none of the requisite sugary sweetness that often accompanies novels of this genre. Gabriela, Claire, and Jessie didn't get to go back to a time before their problems arose; they got to go back and make different choices about how to handle those problems. Some of their choices turned out well, but often they just made different messes. And in the end, they got to decide which messes they'd rather live with: the ones that led them back ten years in the first place or the ones that happened when they turned forty a second time. Fenton and Steinke gave their characters real opportunities for change along with real life lessons that didn't make me feel like I was being preached at. And, in the end, there were still enough surprises left over that I closed the book (metaphorically speaking because, you know, KINDLE) with a smile on my face. That's good storytelling. 

Please note, I received a free copy of The Year We Turned Forty in exchange for an honest review.

Photo Credit: Debbie Friedrich
Want to learn more about Liz and Lisa? Check out their super awesome website here and connect with them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

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