Title: On Home
Author: Becca Spence Dobias
Publication date: August 31, 2021
Genre: Women’s Fiction
One Sentence Summary: Three generation of women in one family and their different routes to motherhood.
Before jumping into the review, I wanted to note that this isn’t my usual kind of read. While I enjoy women’s fiction, I’m not much a reader of multigenerational stories. However, I once knew the author. She taught a parent-child nature-oriented class I signed my son up for a few years ago, so something in me felt compelled to read this. It’s not every day I log into NetGalley and see the name of an author I’ve actually known! That said, I’ve done my best to be as fair considering this isn’t my usual type of read.
On Home is the story of three generations of women in the same family and their journeys into motherhood. It discusses abortion, miscarriage, race, sexuality, and sex workers, among other things. However, it felt a little too ambitious, so failed to really provide any depth on any of the issues it took up outside of motherhood. Set in the past and present and centered around a small town in Western Virginia, On Home is about Jane, Paloma, and Cassidy and how each of them found themselves back in the small town, particularly as it related to their different paths to becoming a mother.
On Home is about women and motherhood. It’s about three generations of women (grandmother, mother, and daughter) and their lives specifically as it relates to motherhood. Grandma Jane lived through WWII as a Government Girl, leaving her small West Virginia town to work in Washington, D.C. along with her cousin Ding. With soldiers aplenty and single women everywhere, Jane just wanted to do her job while her cousin was boy crazy. Paloma, Jane’s daughter-in-law, sought freedom and art in Prague, finding a life she loved, only to wind up in a small West Virginia town, desperate to have a child while her feelings were ambiguous towards her husband. Cassidy, Paloma’s daughter, left West Virginia for California, but family circumstances pulled her back to West Virginia and forced her to examine what she really wanted.
Set in Southern California’s Inland Empire and a small town in West Virginia, On Home is really the story of Cassidy figuring out where her heart and home are. Being a native of Southern California, and one-time resident of the IE, I liked how it felt familiar. But it mostly felt superficial with mostly just the names of streets and cities dropped in, until Cassidy’s Mexican friend Noeli starts talking about being a brown girl and what it’s meant for her her entire life. West Virginia felt so backwards it kind of made my jaw drop. I know very little about the state, but the descriptions are most vivid when it comes to the small town. It’s stark and felt poverty ridden. There seemed to be a small progressive group, but it overall just felt so backward I had a hard time seeing Cassidy wanting to live in her family’s home.
But On Home is really about the characters: Jane, Paloma, and Cassidy. Other than their different ways of becoming a mother, I’m not entirely sure what the book was supposed to be about, though I did like that it focused on motherhood. Overall, I’d have to say this is a book about characters, about people, and their stories, particularly as it relates to motherhood and their feelings around it.
As a mother, I did enjoy reading about three women in the same family who viewed motherhood differently. I liked that it wasn’t all focused on the resulting baby and how to raise children, but was instead focused on the mother, on her views on pregnancy and the kind of mother she wanted to be. It also fearlessly discussed abortion and miscarriages, the pain and the sadness.
There were several other things touched on throughout the novel, including race and sexuality. One of the main characters even works as an online sex worker, highlighting why some women choose to do that kind of work, though I did feel it wasn’t quite as relevant to the story as a whole as it could have been. Actually, most of the issues mentioned were dealt with in a more surface-level way. There was so much depth that could have been given, but I felt there was more a need to touch on so many different things than to actually weave it all together into a beautiful story.
But, as I mentioned, On Home is really about Jane, Paloma, and Cassidy.
I liked Jane and her story the most. She lived through WWII and, after graduating high school, she and her cousin Ding went to Washington, D.C. to do various office work. In the present day, Jane has recently been diagnosed with dementia, so much of her story is told through reflections and memories of the past. Her chapters tended to blend almost confusingly as she slipped back and forth in time. But the pieces that took place in the past really took me back to the past and what life might have been like for two young women from rural America in a big city with soldiers literally everywhere. I loved the stories she told of her past, but I didn’t quite know how it fit in with the present.
Paloma wasn’t one I cared for much, though she did get my sympathy towards the end as she and her daughter came to terms with their mother-daughter relationship. She doesn’t seem to spend much time in the present day, either, instead reflecting back on the days before she met her husband all the way to when she and her husband Ken moved from Prague to his hometown in West Virginia. I got the sense she was supposed to be something of a free spirit who ended up tied down because of her marriage and their mutual desire to have a baby, but I couldn’t really tell much of who she was. As a whole, she kind of felt like a vague figure, though I did like her and Cassidy’s interactions.
Cassidy kind of drove me up the wall. I thought she was entitled and self-obsessed. But she felt like the main focus of the story. It was about her leaving home to seek something more than what her small town could offer, especially as a lesbian who was labelled “different” early on and bullied because of it, and then going back home and being changed. But she was just so self-obsessed and kept running from all her problems that I kind of felt like shaking her. It was hard for me to feel any kind of sympathy for her and I just kept waiting for her to grow up.
On Home was an interesting story about women and motherhood. I liked that it involved three generations of women in the same family and the different ways they became mothers. But, other than Jane, it was hard to connect with them and difficult for me to feel interested in their stories. There’s a lot of back and forth between past and present. Cassidy’s was the only one that really took place in the present, but she failed to pull all three story lines together, so it felt more like On Home was the story of how she was made instead of seamlessly blending the three stories and voices together.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.