A review of Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Reviewed by Sara Hodon

Night Road
by Kristin Hannah
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, 400pages, March 22, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-0312364427

What is it about Kristin Hannah’s novels? The plots are a bit predictable. Her main characters usually shine, yet her supporting cast often falls a bit flat. And yet her work is compulsively readable. Her latest, Night Road, is no exception.

Like many of her previous books, Night Road focuses on the complicated relationship between mothers and their children. In this case, the mother in question is Jude Farraday, an admittedly (with some hesitation) over-protective, hyper-involved mother of twins Zach and Mia. Jude’s husband, Miles, is a faint but steadying presence throughout the book.

The book covers the years 2000-2010, beginning with Mia (and her family)’s introduction to Lexi Baill, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who firmly believes in doing what’s right. After the death of her troubled mother, Lexi is taken in by her distant relative, Aunt Eva, and settles into her new life, starting with a new school and all the pains that go along with making friends and fitting in. On her first day, two events occur that eventually chart the course of the rest of Lexi’s life—she meets Mia Farraday, a shy, lonely girl who isn’t winning any popularity contests, and runs into Zach Farraday, the school’s popular, beloved golden boy who happens to be Mia’s twin brother. Lexi doesn’t learn that the two are related until later that day, and this realization makes the later events all the more tangled and complex.

Hannah writes firmly in the present, putting the readers in both Jude and Lexi’s thoughts at the moment of her narration. Even though Hannah makes many references to painful events in her characters’ pasts, she doesn’t delve into those moments with any great depth. She reveals that Lexi’s mother was a drug addict and alcoholic, and that Jude and her mother (who makes several appearances throughout the book) have a strained relationship after the death of Jude’s father. Their bond doesn’t begin to heal until close to the end of the book, which could easily leave readers wanting to know more. I found myself asking many questions about their relationship—How do they mend? Were they ever close?

Jude’s relationship with her husband Miles is also left at loose ends. After a series of tragic events that would put any marriage to the test, Jude and Miles begin to drift apart, although their bond didn’t seem unbreakable in the earlier part of the novel, either. Hannah tells us that the Farradays’ marriage is strong, but shows us little evidence of this point. Miles is every bit a supporting character—he is present throughout the book and is strong for his wife when he needs to be, but really, we learn very little about him, and the way he is written, the plot could have soldiered on without him in it. Finally, near the end of the novel, their family starts putting the pieces of their lives back together, but every character is forever changed. Jude, particularly, learns to transition from overprotective mother to forgiving mother—a realization she does not reach easily, but works on for the last few chapters of the book.

At her heart, Lexi remains as moral and thoughtful at the end of the book as she was in the earlier chapters when she was a wary teenager looking for love. Lexi shoulders the blame for the tragic events that unfold in more ways than one. She is faced with losing her adopted family, the family she has created, and her freedom, all with the intention of hopefully righting a wrong.

Although Night Road does not give readers a wholly original story or a fully-developed cast of characters, the storyline is compelling and Hannah does an admirable job of exploring the depth of a mother’s love and the power of forgiveness.

About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com