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The Awkward Age
Cover of The Awkward Age
The Awkward Age
A Novel
One of PureWow's "Summer Books to Read If You Loved Big Little Lies"
"A spry and accomplished comedy of manners." —The New York Times Book Review


"Segal deftly unspools a disastrous but plausible scenario... This page-turner is witty, compassionate and wickedly astute." —People

"They've chosen the one thing that will make our family life impossible. It's genius really, when you think about it. It's the perfect sabotage."

Julia Alden has fallen deeply, unexpectedly in love. American obstetrician James is everything she didn't know she wanted—if only her teenage daughter, Gwen, didn't hate him so much. Uniting two households is never easy, but when Gwen turns for comfort to James's seventeen-year-old son, Nathan, the consequences will test her mother's loyalty and threaten all their fragile new happiness.
This is a moving and powerful novel about the modern family: about starting over; about love, guilt, and generosity; about building something beautiful amid the mess and complexity of what came before. It is a story about standing by the ones we love, even while they make mistakes. We would give anything to make our children happy. But how much should they ask?
One of PureWow's "Summer Books to Read If You Loved Big Little Lies"
"A spry and accomplished comedy of manners." —The New York Times Book Review


"Segal deftly unspools a disastrous but plausible scenario... This page-turner is witty, compassionate and wickedly astute." —People

"They've chosen the one thing that will make our family life impossible. It's genius really, when you think about it. It's the perfect sabotage."

Julia Alden has fallen deeply, unexpectedly in love. American obstetrician James is everything she didn't know she wanted—if only her teenage daughter, Gwen, didn't hate him so much. Uniting two households is never easy, but when Gwen turns for comfort to James's seventeen-year-old son, Nathan, the consequences will test her mother's loyalty and threaten all their fragile new happiness.
This is a moving and powerful novel about the modern family: about starting over; about love, guilt, and generosity; about building something beautiful amid the mess and complexity of what came before. It is a story about standing by the ones we love, even while they make mistakes. We would give anything to make our children happy. But how much should they ask?
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  • From the book 1.

    The teenagers would fuck it up. certainly they always tried; it was the only impulse Gwen and Nathan had in common, besides their hostility toward one another. This morning the thought of waking her daughter filled Julia with a particular foreboding, despite her own excitement about the weekend.

    They were all going to America, to James's hometown, which Julia had imagined since meeting him. They had given one another their futures but she was greedy for his past, too; she would never know him young, but knowing Boston seemed the next best thing, a way to make up the impossible, inconceivable deficit of all the wasted days spent not loving him, before they'd met. She wanted to see the places that had mattered; to visit Harvard, where James had turned his tassel, had become a doctor, a husband, a father; had grown from unknown boy into the cherished man who now lay beside her, breathing steadily, facedown in his pillow, in their bed, on the top floor of what was now their home, a narrow Victorian terraced house in Gospel Oak, north London. She was looking forward to Boston. On the other hand, this holiday meant three intensive days with Nathan, who would no doubt take every opportunity to needle her with casual reminiscence about the halcyon days during which his father had been married to his mother. Meanwhile Julia's own daughter, Gwen, would be dependably more difficult. Such had been the way.

    James stirred, smiled sleepily up at Julia, and hooked an arm 'round her waist. He drew her back to the horizontal, and began to mumble into her hair. A muscled thigh fell over hers, hot and marble-heavy, and she was pinioned.

    "The cab's in an hour, we've got to get the kids up. I have to do the dog."

    He shook his head, without opening his eyes. "Send the kids ­without us, let's stay here. It'd serve them right for being pains in the rear end."

    On cue, a thudding bass began beneath them, too loud for the rest of the terrace at this or any hour. Nathan was awake. Impossible to rouse most mornings he was home from boarding school, it seemed he could spring up before daylight when Boston—and an escape from her house, Julia suspected—lay ahead of him. Predictably, dispiritingly, Gwen's voice now rose, shouting a sleep-slurred obscenity. At the sound of so many humans unexpectedly awake during his early shift, Mole began to bark with joy. The thump of tail on wooden boards was followed by a frantic scrabbing outside their bedroom door. "Shut up!" they then heard, and the dog and the rest of Gwen's complaint were drowned out when Nathan turned up the volume.

    "When will they start to be nice to each other?"

    James had tipped forward and was fishing on the floor beside the bed for last night's T-shirt, bare buttocks in the air. "Probably never," he said cheerily, from this position. "But we can get rid of them soon. College. The army. Sell them into service." When this got no reply he sat up again and said more gently, "Give it time, it hasn't been very long. It's a big change for both of them."

    "Saskia's been civilized. Why is your daughter an angel when mine is being such a nightmare?"

    "Saskia doesn't have to live here," James pointed out. He was squinting at his watch. "Cab's in an hour and twenty. Have I got time for a run? I'll take the dog."

    He was out of bed, flexing and yawning, and Julia paused to look at him. It was extraordinary that this man now shared her bed. He was broad chested, solid, beautiful. At fifty-five he was still mostly blonde. He was tall, and square in the way that only Americans are square—as if raised, corn-fed and free-range, on strong sunshine and red meat and the earnest...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 20, 2017
    This observant comedy of manners about a contemporary blended family by the author of The Innocents is deepened by the author’s compassion for her self-deluded characters. Widowed Julia, a British piano teacher, has just allowed her new love James, an obstetrician from Boston, to move in, and they’re relishing their relationship—except for the presence of their teenage kids. Julia’s gawky, artistic daughter, Gwen, and James’s snarky, intellectual son, Nathan, despise each other and make life miserable for their parents—until they start to become attracted to each other, which creates a much deeper set of problems. James’s ex-wife and the separated parents of Julia’s deceased husband all weigh in on the situation, while going through emotional changes of their own. In prose to savor, Segal reflects on the conflicts between loving one’s spouse and one’s children and the difficulties in putting one’s own offspring first. She skillfully ups the stakes in the battle in which the four primary family members are engaged, as the previously close Julia and Gwen find themselves at war and each aggrieved to be misunderstood by the other. If adolescence is “fraught with awkwardness,” Segal ably demonstrates that adulthood is as well.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from March 15, 2017
    A novel about the trials and tribulations of family life.Gwen is unhappy about her mother's new relationship. After her father died, several years back, the now-teenage Gwen and her mother, Julia, were on their own, just the two of them. Now there's not only a man to deal with, for all intents and purposes a stepfather, but also a stepbrother, and they've all moved into Julia's London town house together. Segal's (The Innocents, 2012) latest effort is a moving, funny, and surprisingly gripping story about love and guilt and family life and teenagers. She moves adroitly between points of view so that we see Gwen's perspective but also Julia's, James' (Julia's beau), and Nathan's (James' son)--sometimes within the space of a few paragraphs. At the beginning, Gwen and Nathan can't stand each other: Gwen is an artistic, indifferent student, while Nathan studies intensely, his gaze set on Oxford. They tease and provoke each other, and the atmosphere of the house is, to say the least, tense. After a while, though, something shifts between them, and Nathan and Gwen grow closer and--to their parents' horror--closer. What happens next might be somewhat predictable, but that doesn't make the story any less riveting. Gwen is faced with a choice that will determine not only her own life, but also the lives of the whole household. Throughout all this, Segal's prose is clear and precise and the novel is so engrossing it's hard to put down. Despite all their fine intentions, Julia and James can't help placing extra blame for their situation on the other's child; each sympathizes with his or her own offspring. There are no clear answers here--not because there is no right or wrong but because family life is messy and teenagers even messier. In finely wrought prose, with characters who seem to walk beside us and speak aloud, Segal's latest novel is a sympathetic portrait of the difficulties in finding love and raising teenagers.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2017
    When Julia Alden falls for American obstetrician James, whom her daughter, Gwen, loathes, Gwen turns to James's 17-year-old son, Nathan. Thereby hangs a tale of guilt, loyalty, and uncertain happiness. The second novel from Costa First Novel and Betty Trask award winner Segal.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Awkward Age
A Novel
Francesca Segal
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