Adventures in Parenthood
By Dawn Atkins
November 1, 2013
Dixon Carter has depended on his older brother Howard as a constant, unchanging presence in his life. Even his place of employment, Bootstrap Academy, is the dream of Howard, who worked as a social worker for seventeen years before he and his schoolteacher wife, Brianna, started the job-training and placement agency to help workers in Phoenix displaced in a faltering economy. Dixon is left in charge of his twin nieces when Howard and Brianna take a rare vacation to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, the first time they have ever left their four-year-old daughters. Dixon is blindsided by the news that Howard and Brianna have been killed in an automobile accident as they were returning to Phoenix. Devastated by his own grief, he is also overwhelmed with the realization that he has suddenly become responsible for his nieces.
Aubrey Hanson can hardly contain her excitement about a potential sponsor that will allow her to continue her blog—Extreme Adventure Girl: Ordinary Girl on an Extraordinary Journey. Having just returned from reindeer racing in Norway, she resents every mile between L.A. and Phoenix that delays her sharing the news with her twin Brianna, the person who has shared all the important moments of her life. Aubrey’s good news would add another celebratory note to the celebration of Briana and Howard’s anniversary. Nothing could have prepared Aubrey for the news that awaits her when she arrives in Phoenix. Brianna and Howard are dead, and Ginger and Sienna are orphans. Instead of attending an anniversary party, Aubrey must help plan a funeral.
Both Dixon and Aubrey have lost the person dearest to them, and both are eager to assume the care of their young nieces. But neither of them has any real understanding of all that parenting two little girls whose lives and hearts have been delivered a knockout blow. Despite Aubrey’s good intentions, she reluctantly admits that the lifestyle of constant travel and risk-taking imposed by her adventurous life makes her a poor candidate to be the girls’ primary guardian. Dixon, in contrast, is based in Phoenix, the girls’ home, with a stable routine. Moreover, he has been a regular part of their young lives, and their emotional attachment to him is strong. Clearly, it is in the best interest of the children that they remain in his care.
The two agree that Dixon will serve as guardian, but Aubrey will be involved in the girls’ life as much as possible. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds. First, the situation is complicated by Dixon and Aubrey’s history. They came within a heartbeat of having a fling at Howard and Brianna’s wedding, but Dixon’s native caution prevailed at the last minute. The chemistry between them remains potent, but given the differences in their lifestyles and personalities, avoiding temptation seems their wisest choice. And if their feelings don’t complicate matters enough, the disagreements over what risk-taker Audrey and risk-avoider Dixon think are best for Ginger and Sienna are vast. Are they too great to overcome when the happiness of four people is at stake?
Atkins provides a realistic view of grief and the difficulties of rebuilding lives after traumatic loss. Both Dixon and Aubrey are complex characters with personal histories that make it easy to understand why they have become the particular people they are. I also appreciated that after their almost-fling, they both went on with their lives. Both have been seriously involved with other people in the interim, and the fallout from those failed relationships adds to their wariness with one another. Ginger and Sienna are credibly portrayed in their reactions to their parents’ deaths and to the changes in their lives. Not only does Atkins avoid making them cardboard kids, but she also avoids making the twins carbon copies of each other. All of these characters change during the course of the story. Atkins does an admirable job of showing the difficulties of getting on with life after great loss while giving readers a solid romance at the same time. If you think category romance can’t be satisfying and substantive, you should give Adventures in Parenthood a try.
As an aunt and great-aunt whose nephews and nieces are important in my life, I like stories that show aunts and uncles playing significant parts. Most readers remember Auntie Mame, of course, but aside from her, who is your favorite fictional aunt or uncle.