Aug 3 2014 10:00am

First Look: Beth Harbison’s Driving with the Top Down (August 5, 2014)

Driving with the Top Down by Beth Harbison

Beth Harbison
Driving with the Top Down
St. Martin's Press / August 5, 2014 / $$26.99, print / $12.99, digital

Three women, two weeks, one convertible: sometimes life doesn't take you in the direction you expect...

Colleen Bradley is married with a teenage son, a modest business repurposing and reselling antiques, and longtime fear that she was not her husband’s first choice. When she decides to take a road trip down the east coast to check out antique auctions for her business, she also has a secret ulterior motive. Her one-woman mission for peace of mind is thrown slightly off course when sixteen year old Tamara becomes her co-pilot. The daughter of Colleen’s brother-in-law, Tamara is aware that when people see her as a screw-up, but she knows in her heart that she’s so much more. She just wishes her father could see it, too.

The already bumpy trip takes another unexpected turn when they stop at the diner that served as Colleen’s college hangout and run into her old friend, Bitty Nolan Camalier. Clearly distressed, Bitty gives them a story full of holes: angry with her husband, she took off on her own, only to have her car stolen. Both Colleen and Tamara sense that there’s more that Bitty isn’t sharing, but Colleen offers to give Bitty a ride to Florida.

So one becomes two becomes three as Colleen, Tamara, and Bitty make their way together down the coast. It’s a road trip fraught with tension as Tamara’s poor choices come back to haunt her and Bitty’s secrets reach a boiling point. With no one to turn to but each other, these three women might just discover that you can get lost in life but somehow, true friends provide a roadmap to finding what you’re really looking for.

Reading about soul mates finding each other is magnificent. But in its own way, reading female buddy books can be just as inspiring. Both type of stories are based on the fact that we all need someone to care.

And that need – for someone to “just give a damn” — is at the heart of Beth Harbison’s new book, Driving with the Top Down.

Colleen Bradley is being left behind as her husband and teenage son go off together to do some male bonding—no females allowed. And she is fine with that because this will give her a chance to get her act together – to shrug off the feeling that she is second best in her business, and lacking as a mother and a wife.

The perfect escape retreat is a little tarnished by the addition of her niece by marriage, Tamara, but Colleen decides to take the high road, and hope that Tamara won’t act out. And when she comes across her ex-college best friend stranded after her car is stolen, she agrees to take on another traveler.

Stoically and fatalistically each start out the trip with problems the size of boulders. Bitty doesn’t have a friend in the whole, and the foundation of her life has crumbled:

Dear Stranger,
Everyone should have somebody to write a suicide not to. People kill themselves and leave suicide notes behind every day. Always addressing their children, parents, friends, anyone. I don’t have anyone to write mine to. So I’ll write it here, and whoever reads it…well, I guess you’re my closest friend.

Tamara, known as Tamara the Jailbird, is struggling at home and at school. She doesn’t have big needs. She would just love to have a dad who wants her there. One who doesn’t associate her eighteenth birthday with freedom. But most of all she just wants someone on her side:

And how she wished had a friend she could pig out like that with. What a lame and pitiful thought: I wish I had a best friend.

But as you read through the book, glimpses of hope start percolating for Tamara:

Her stomach was in knots, and she had the dorkiest grin on her face. She didn’t even realize she hadn’t had any more of her cigarette. She stomped it out and head back inside, feeling like maybe, just maybe when she went home, things might be different. Maybe she could try to be a normal girl. One who didn’t live underground with no natural light or clean air and instead just electric, fuzzy TV light and pot-filled oxygen.

Maybe she could fix herself before it was actually too late.

And for Bitty too:

When it comes to suicide, you’d think it was sort of a beggars-can’t-be-choosers sort of thing, wouldn’t you? Like, once you’ve decided to do it and you’re on your way to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for sedatives and you slip in the street and fall in front of an oncoming truck, that's just fortuitous, right? Means it was meant to be or something.

That’s what I would have thought anyway. Until today.

We went to another auction, and I darn near enjoyed myself.

It might seem like the Driving with the Top Down could be a little melancholy but it is not. It is a warm celebration of the best part of our lives. You can’t help but be pulled into a book that extols what women do best— being there for friends. You will feel a sense of gratification about the changes in Colleen, Bitty and Tamara’s lives, but also a sense of recognition. Because even if the scenarios are not in any way similar to your own life, the emotions are. It will take you back to the friends that offered a helping hand, getting you out of your own quagmire, and the helping hand you offered in returned.


Learn more about or order a copy of Driving with the Top Down by Beth Harbison, available August 5, 2014:

Buy at Amazon

Buy at B&N

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Buy at IndieBound



Leigh Davis, blogger

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