Title: Blue Plate Special
Author: Michelle D. Kwasney
ISBN: 9780811867801
Pages: 366 pages
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books, c2009.

Taken from the back cover:
Mom gets guiet again. I glance over, making sure she’s still upright.
“We’re quite a pair,” she says, forcing a smile. “I drinka lil’ too much and you eata lil’ too much.” She lifts her Talking Beer toward a patch of stars. “Here’s to whatever makes you happy.”
Her head drops, landing on the giant hill my shoulder makes. Happy is the last thing I’d call us.

i think of the plate
i broke my first day
working at the diner,
recall charlotte’s words
as she shoveled shards into the trash:
relax, honey, it’s only a plate.
she was right, i should have relaxed
because look what’s broken now–
something that can’t be swept up and tossed.

Mom says there are pivotal moments in life that divide our existence into distinct compartments. Like when she had me at sixteen, life became Before Ariel and After Ariel. She could never go back to being who she had been. As I take the phone from her, returning it to its base, I have an eerie feeling this might be one of those moments.

Three generations of women tell their stories of life’s and love’s heartbreaks and hardships. Madeline’s mother is addicted to men, alcohol, and cigarettes, in that order, and rarely can take care of Madeline. So when a McDonald’s employee starts paying attention to Madeline, she relishes the possibilities that come with this budding romance. Sixteen years later, Desiree’s has her own budding romance with a classmate named Jeremy. But her own mother is just as distant as Madeline’s, and when the time comes to support her daughter, will Desiree’s mother be able to come through when it really matters? Finally, there’s Ariel (named after the Sylvia Plath poem, not the Disney character) who controlling boyfriend Shane doesn’t understand her need to visit her sick grandmother who she’s never previously met.

Even if you didn’t realize it before reading, it’s quickly apparent that the three women are related, as daughters become mothers and their life stories are slowly revealed. I had some difficulty getting into the story in the beginning, and I had to stop a few times in the story to keep the timelines straight in my head. I can’t say a whole lot about the stories without ruining plot points for future readers. There is a twist in Madeline’s story that is elluded to towards the end of the novel, but it’s presentation still catches readers off guard. I was impressed with the loyalty that Jeremy shows Desiree, and I think anyone would love to have a guy like that for their own, although his actions are questionable if also admirable. The warning signs are there with Shane, and the fact that they are finally heeded is a relief to this reader. Michelle Kwasney includes a note about some resources for girls who find themselves in the same situation as the characters in the story. Each girl deals with her difficulties differently, and each girl is well developed both internally and externally. Since we get insights into all three of the women, it leads me wishing we had a back story for Madeline’s mother, and how she ended up the way she did. I like her idea that our lives are like a diner’s “Blue Plate Special”; that “we all inherit someone else’s leftovers, don’t we? […] But it’s what was heaped on my plate the day I came into this world. That’s what I have to work with. I can sit there and stare at it hopelessly” or we can do something about it. (336)