The Cast was published on August 14th, 2018. Although NetGalley provided me with an e-book copy, all thoughts are my own. And while I prefer my book reviews to be spoiler-free, I don’t believe I can do this one well enough without spoiling one detail. This detail is revealed in the first chapter, and is hinted at in the summary, but I’m putting this notice here in case you prefer going into a book with as little information as possible.
Twenty-five years ago, a group of ninth graders produced a Saturday Night Live-style videotape to cheer up their ailing friend. The show’s running time was only ninety minutes, but it had a lasting impact: Becca laughed her way through recovery, and the group—Jordana, Seth, Holly, and Lex—became her supporting cast for life.
On the silver anniversary of Becca Night Live, the friends reunite over the Fourth of July to celebrate Becca’s good health—but nothing goes as planned. The happy holiday card facades everyone’s been hiding behind quickly crumble and give way to an unforgettable three days filled with complex moral dilemmas and life-altering choices. Through humor, drama, and the alternating perspectives of five characters, The Cast explores the power of forgiveness, the importance of authenticity, and the immeasurable value of deep, enduring friendships to buoy us when life plays out differently than expected.
Heartbreak, loss, jealousy; friendship, resilience, love; Amy Blumenfeld has created a web intricately woven with the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of life in her novel The Cast.
The book starts from character Becca’s point of view. We are in the present, and she is picking her seven year old daughter up from the bus stop. She just hung up from a call that clearly filled her with dread, and when they get back home Becca calls her husband, Nolan, to relay the information to him. We are then told there is a party the following weekend, being thrown by Becca’s best friend Jordana, in celebration of Becca. This set up is quick but not rushed, and Amy Blumenfeld incorporates such realistic dialogue that flows easily with inner thoughts, monologues, and character history (throughout the rest of the book).
Enter The Cast: Jordana, Holly, Lexi, and Seth. Becca’s high school friends who have drifted apart yet stuck together, some more geographically and physically than others. They are bound by their tight-knit teenage years, during which Becca had cancer. In present time, it’s been twenty-five years since Becca’s friends visited her in her hospital room, and Jordana has planned a weekend away for all of them to celebrate Becca’s health and their friendship. But with that call, everything changes.
Amy Blumenfeld’s writing, as I mentioned above, is so realistic you can’t help but be pulled in, and you can’t help but take sides and imagine what you would do in the situations in which these adults are thrown. In addition to the cancer, we are submerged in the waters of marriage, motherhood, parenthood, happiness, and self-discovery. We see through Becca’s eyes the expectations and standards imposed by healthcare that, with all its advances, hasn’t caught up with knowledgeable and confident 21st century women. We also see the tender portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship and how being honest can take many forms. We see Jordana’s insecurities that have stuck with her since high school, as well as her loyalty and dedication to those whom she holds close. We see Holly’s wise-beyond-her-years personality, and her devotion to family, tradition, and herself. We see Lexi’s perfect life, which, if you are familiar with cliches, is not actually perfect, and we see that starting over in mid-life is a struggle but can lead to beautiful things. We see Seth, who still feels the weight of decisions that have ultimately led him to satisfaction and happiness, which says a lot about how expectations can creep up on us even when we thought they were left behind. And we see Nolan, a man who entered this cast in a much different time, who is battling honesty and truth, and whose childish behavior really exposes how vulnerable tragedies make us at any age, more so when they affect us for the first time.
This story is emotional, it is heart-wrenching, and the characters – like in reality – are complex and far from perfect. They can be unlikable, infuriating, disappointing, but also compassionate, sweet, and surprising. It’s almost unbelievable how well the various plot points come together and how satisfying their differences are; almost unbelievable because well, that’s life. Amy Blumenfeld has created a testament to childhood, adulthood, and what it means to be human, to be a friend, to be a parent. This book is for everyone; if its impact is not clear to you, just wait – for the middle of the story, for the end, or for a time when you seek comfort in the face of the messiness and unpredictability of life.