Author Shawna Holly depicts the pressures of motherhood in her novel, The Stories We Keep.
Jenna is a young, stay-at-home mother with a husband and three small children living near San Antonio, Texas. By her own account, she has a good marriage and is financially comfortable. Yet she has a history of depression and struggles with feelings of inadequacy as a parent. She keeps these feelings to herself and finds calm at weekly visits with Bonnie, an older woman whom she recently befriended.
Despite these brief respites, Jenna can’t ward off her increasing anxiety. She takes off one day without warning, leaving her husband in charge while she finds refuge with a childhood friend in her Alabama hometown.
Jenna avoids telling her grandmother and mother she’s in town for fear they won’t understand why she left. However, they soon find and welcome her—but not without imparting their advice. One by one, her relatives and other women she meets share their struggles with motherhood, which Jenna later records in a journal.
Holly provides a lucid look at motherhood through Jenna, who’s immediately relatable with the novel’s opening line: “What I wouldn’t give to be the type of mom who remembers an umbrella and wears weather-appropriate shoes.” The story is well paced and aptly describes the chaos that comes with raising children, from temper tantrums to the possibility of losing one’s sense of self.
Although a surprising and uplifting ending awaits, middle portions resemble a self-help guide as Jenna records what she’s learning in her journal: for example, “You’re stronger than you remember.” And: “Call someone—anyone—who can help you remember who you are.” Although some advice seems trite (“It’s okay to ask for help and sometimes you should.”), Jenna’s gleaned wisdom offers readers coping mechanisms and thwarts societal taboos against admitting struggles with parenthood.
In all, this is a moving exploration of motherhood’s pressures and expectations— one that any parent will find thought-provoking.