PUBLICATION DATE: SEPTEMBER 01, 2012
other of Pearl
other of Pearlis the debut novel of Kellie Coates Gilbert. It’s a promising story that unfortunately falls short in some respects.
Mother of Pearl revolves around Barrie Graeber, a high school counselor who is happily married to Steve and the mother of two children, Pearl and Aaron. As the book opens, Barrie’s biggest problem is the tension between academics and athletics, especially as the football coach, Michael Warren, wants to have his star player available despite his dismal academic performance.
Barrie’s daughter, Pearl, is a typical teenager. She is pretty, participates on the school dance team, and dates the quarterback of the football team. She has friends and gets along well with her parents. However, Pearl’s world begins to fall apart when she is betrayed by her boyfriend and a good friend. She begins to withdraw from her parents and stops sharing things with them. She starts to hang out with Troy Hohman, a boy with tattoos. Worse yet, her parents catch her drinking alcohol. Barrie is struggling to find a way to reach her daughter when the unthinkable happens and the family loses Pearl completely.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Barrie and Steve struggle with their marriage. They have always had a good relationship, but now they are handling things differently. Steve is throwing himself into work and attending a Bible study group. Meanwhile, Barrie is lying in bed, watching soap operas, and obsessing about what happened to Pearl. Steve gets upset when he finds her going through Pearl’s things because he thinks they should try to move on with their lives. He’s also upset that Barrie is not spending enough quality time with their son, Aaron. Meanwhile, Barrie’s mother, Elaine, wants to hire a public relations specialist to steer the family through the crisis, especially after they learn new surprising details about their daughter’s life.
As the story progresses, we watch Barrie stand firm with what she believes is the right course of action, despite disappointing those around her.
Barrie is a likeable character with a strong and genuine maternal instinct. I enjoyed watching her fight for justice, and I was eager to see how the story would end.
On the other hand, there’s a lot that falls apart in the narrative structure of this novel. It’s almost as though the author changed her mind throughout the story about the direction she wanted to take with the story. For example, I thought we were going to explore Barrie’s feelings about religion, especially when her husband starts attending a Bible study group, but that storyline, although hinted at, isn’t addressed later. Similarly, Barrie’s relationship with the Hohmans and her mother, Elaine, could have been explored more deeply but isn’t. Likewise, we don’t really see how Barrie and Steve work through their differences, which would have been interesting. Finally, Barrie’s past, especially her pregnancy with Pearl, is discussed only in a surface way, but could have served as thought-provoking material for helping us understand where Barrie is today. In other words, there are a lot of potentially interesting storylines that are picked up and dropped. It’s a testament to the story that we want to learn more, but it’s unfortunate that we are left disappointed.
My last complaint is that the legal scenes toward the end of the book are rife with errors, which is surprising given that the author has worked in the legal field.
Overall, this is a suspenseful story about an important issue affecting many high school students. With some tweaks, it could have been a much richer, more complex story.