Sunday, December 1, 2019

Books: "Holly Banks Full of Angst" by Julie Valerie

Holly Banks Full of Angst
By Julie Valerie
Lake Union Publishing; paperback, $14.95; Kindle eBook, $4.99; available today, Sunday, December 1

Julie Valerie is the founder of the 85K Writing Challenge and serves on the board of directors of James River Writers. Holly Banks Full of Angst is her debut novel.

In today's world of competitive parenting, the quest for perfection has never been stronger. In addition to managing a healthy academic, social, artistic, and spiritual calendar, parents, mostly mothers, must craft photo backdrops for holiday parties, hunt down organic ingredients for bake sales and hand sew Dora the Explorer family Halloween costumes, and Valerie humorously explores all of this.

The town of Primm is picture perfect: immaculate homes, manicured lawns and gazebos galore. One-time filmmaker and full-time mother Holly Banks hopes that moving to this suburban sanctuary will create the happily ever after her theatrical brain desires. 

However, it does not go as planned. After missing the school bus, then hitting it, on her daughter's first day of kindergarten, Holly is shamed by the army of over-caffeinated PTA moms who seem to have it our for her. Holly wonders how these women have the time to bake a dozen egg-free, gluten-free, nut-free, sugar free cupcakes every time the PTA president orders them to. Also, how do they do it all in four-inch Jimmy Choos?

Holly's attempts at perfection, along with her continued failures, spill from school to home: her husband may be cheating; her thumb-sucking daughter is addicted to My Little Pony, and her eccentric mother insists on "helping" in very unhelpful ways.

Eventually, Holly realizes that everyone is a work in progress, and that is what makes this book so relatable to overworked moms who have attempted Pinterest-level perfection, only to learn that there's no such thing.

The What, the How, and the Why: Holly Banks Full of Angst by Julie Valerie:

When writing Holly Banks Full of Angst, the first book in the Village of Primm series, it was important for me to capture the same feeling I had as a young mother entering an unfamiliar world the day the first of my four children entered kindergarten. The moment she stepped onto the bus and drove away from me - not yet independent, but acting independently - I was struck with the profound sense something had changed, at that very moment, and it made me cry. The "old" world - life as we had known it - was no more. A "new" world lay before us. Change often comes with the marking of a milestone. Ready or not, you've crossed a portal into a new reality.

In my novel, which takes place during the first week of kindergarten, the titular character Holly Banks, newly moved to the Village of Primm, must adjust to an entirely different culture and cope with the challenges of being a newcomer in a village with established rules and hierarchies. The drive to belong to this community is powerfully felt by Holly, and I explore concepts of welcome, belonging, and banishment throughout the novel - not just for Holly, but for other characters as well.

I ask, in what ways do moms strive to present themselves as perfect mothers to mask underlying flaws they hope no one will notice? I explore maternal fears of making mistakes that impact our children and, through Holly's relationship with both her daughter and her mother, ask To what degree is there a connection between a parent's foibles and child's wellbeing?

Heavy doses of "pressure to volunteer" are present in the novel as are "mom cliques" and archetypal roles that women play within their communities. I explore beauty and the senseless destruction of beauty. I search for cracks in the pursuit of perfection and address the fight to pull happiness from the jaws of struggle.

The tension Village of Primm mothers feel about the relaxed motherhood lifestyle offered in neighboring Southern Lakes is inspired by moments in my own life where I have tried and failed to be a perfect mom; tried and failed at something that was expected of me; tried and failed to live up to unrealistic social expectations. Is the grass always greener on the other side? Is this "mom village" we live in - something within? Something, of our own construct?

And in what ways does that seemingly innocuous yellow school bus usher us all through a portal and into a world where we will remain for many, many years as our children adapt, change, and grow; as our families adapt, change, and grow; and as we - mothers, women - for better or worse, find ourselves adapting, changing, growing into something new. Perhaps even, into something wholly unexpected.

At its heart, Holly Banks Full of Angst is a funny book. The origin of my writing humor traces to a series of emails I wrote about my life as a mom that went viral among our social group. "Write that," my husband has said, pointing to the draft of an open email on my screen, my audience of readers on the "TO:" line.

And so, using the kind of situational humor that arises out of quotidian situations moms often find themselves in, I employed as many types of humor as made sense for the story - hyperbolic, ironic, self-deprecating, physical, sophomoric, deadpan - with elements of farce, screwball, slapstick, and satire, written at times with wit, wordplay, sketch, or as jokes. And I took a risk, employing bodily and cringe comedy, the comedy of embarrassment. 

In a nutshell, what I write reflects my investment in and deep curiosity of the issues and nuances of motherhood, the most important job in the world. How I write about the 'hood is through humor. When asked why I wrote Holly Banks Full of Angst, I say this: I'm on a mission to make moms laugh. That's it. That's my tagline.

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