Designer You - Sarahlyn Bruck
My Review - 4 Stars
Designer You explores grief and discovering what you’re capable of with the backdrop of DIY home renovations, blogs, and podcasts. Pam and Nate were a powerhouse design team. Nate spearheaded their projects, while Pam brought them to life on their blog, books, and social media. When Nate dies unexpectedly at their house, Pam not only must figure out how to carry on without him but how to keep Nate's dream alive.
I'm particularly drawn to books that grapple with grief. Pam and her 15 year old daughter Grace flounder without Nate. There is no one way to respond when someone dies. Some families draw closer together, while others fall apart. This is a messier portrayal of grief and it was good to see this—refreshing, even—although said messiness meant I sometimes wanted to wring the characters’ necks.
And isn't that true to life? Characters, like people, do not always behave the way we think they should.
When your spouse or partner dies, there are many layers of loss. There's the reality of having them no longer be physically and emotionally present. In many cases, there's the reality of financial loss as you may lose part or all of the household income. When you run a business with your spouse, all of that burden then falls on you: paying the bills, satisfying clients, keeping the business afloat, all while your grief hovers nearby.
It was fascinating to get a glimpse of the DIY empire Nate and Pam built through the lens of Pam trying to do it all on her own. Most bloggers who have book and product deals, on top of an actual business, would have a team helping them or an administrative assistant at the very least so I was surprised Pam didn't have any support beyond her agent and at least one contractor who helped her manage the workers. But I empathized as she had to learn how to oversee workers, what goes into construction, and how to bring Nate's designs to life without him there.
Pam views herself as a sidekick or almost a silent partner in Designer You, always happy to cede the spotlight to Nate, but that's no longer possible. She doesn't have time to figure out what she wants. It's as if she's on automatic, doing what she can to keep their old way of life going no matter the cost, even if that's not necessarily the best thing for her or Grace. It was heartbreaking to see the toll of her choices on herself and on Grace, although Grace is no innocent party here. They both do not treat each other well in the aftermath.
This could make for heavy reading but I found myself invested in these characters, ready to see what Pam might decide about dating or if Grace would cut her mom some slack. The pages practically turned themselves. I didn't always understand Pam's motivations but I could relate to how she wanted to honor her husband's memory, even as she slowly figured out what she might want from life without him.
We need more stories like this, showing us how complex the grieving process is and how people don't always get it right but they can still find a way forward. They can still find light in the darkness.
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Pam and Nate were a couple who just couldn’t get away from each other, sharing not only their bed, but also a successful lifestyle empire as DIY home renovators, bloggers, podcasters, and co-authors.
When Nate dies in a freak accident, Pam becomes a 44-year-old widow, at once too young and too old—too young to be thrust into widowhood and too old to rejoin the dating pool.
Now the single mother of a headstrong and grief-stricken teenager, Pam’s life becomes a juggling act between dealing with her loss and learning how to parent by herself. On top of all that she also must reinvent herself or lose the empire that she and Nate had built so carefully.
It is time for Pam to seize the opportunity to step up as a mother, come out from behind Nate’s shadow, and rise as the sole face of the Designer You brand, and maybe, possibly, hopefully, find love again.
Buy The Book Here:
Sarahlyn Bruck writes contemporary women’s fiction and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. She is the author of Designer You, published by Crooked Cat Books on August 31, 2018. Sarahlyn teaches writing and literature at a local community college and also coaches writers for Author Accelerator.
Designer You is Sarahlyn’s debut, and she is hard at work on her next book. Want the latest updates? Follow along for news, events, and announcements at sarahlynbruck.com. You can sign up for her monthly newsletter there, too.
Disclosure: I received an advance copy from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.