Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 978-0-312-53707-4
Trade paperback, $14.99, 507 pages
Firefly Lane was the breakout novel for Kristin Hannah. It was the first novel she wrote in an all-female point of view, and the book she says where she found her voice.
It's 1974 and Kate Mularkey lives with her family in a Seattle suburb. She is not a popular eighth-grader, wears all the wrong things, gets picked on in school. All that changes when cool girl Tully moves in across the street with her hippie, drug-addicted mother.
Tully is basically raising herself, trying to care for her mom and run a house on her own. She hides her mother from everyone, telling Kate her mom has cancer. Tully lives on the wild side, and one night things go too far and it is Kate who is there to help her cope.
They become inseparable best friends forever, and everyone refers to them as one word-TullyandKate. Kate's mom finds out about Tully's mother's drug issues, and opens her home to Tully. She gives Tully the confidence to believe that she can have a bright future as a journalist, and Kate reluctantly is dragged into this plan.
The girls go to college together, and while Tully is dogged in her pursuit of her dream, Kate dates and looks to balance school with a dating life. Tully lands a job with a small local television station and gets Kate a job there as well. Kate falls in love with Johnny, the boss, who only has eyes for the gorgeous, vibrant Tully.
We follow Tully as she climbs the career ladder and Kate as she marries and raises her children. Their paths diverge, but they remain best friends, even though they have less in common.
Tully becomes a media superstar, but she thinks of Kate's family as her own. She dates, but she is lonely. Kate is a great mom, but as her daughter Marah becomes a teenager, Marah rebels and puts Tully in the middle.
Marah's rebelliousness leads to Tully making a big mistake and hurting Kate, destroying their friendship in the process. After years of estrangement, can Kate and Tully come together when they need it most?
I was about the same age as Tully and Kate were in 1974, and so all of the references are a touchstone for me. The songs (Billy, Don't Be a Hero is now permanently stuck in my head), the TV shows (Luke and Laura's wedding on General Hospital), Tiger Beat magazine, the clothes and hairstyles- it all came rushing back to me as I read it. Any woman aged 45-50 or so will be transported back to her teen years reading this.
The characters are interesting, and I especially loved Kate's mom, whom I suspect is based on Hannah's mother. She took in Tully and loved her, even when Tully did things that I found almost unforgivable, Kate's mom was there for Tully too.
Besides the theme of friendship, we see how women dealt with issues of work versus family life and what that means to their identity. The difficulties of parenting teenagers will hit home with any parent, but I am curious to see how women who chose to have a demanding career view the character of Tully.
Hannah writes a novel that has an ending that will emotionally devastate the reader, just like she did in Home Front. I don't know of any writer today who can make me cry as much as she does in her books. If you enjoy reading books that pack an emotional punch, Firefly Lane is a must-read.
rating 4 of 5
My review of the sequel to Firefly Lane, Fly Away, is here.
My post on Kristin Hannah's Fly Away book tour visit to Barnes & Noble is here.
Kristin Hannah's website is here.