All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: How To Be Second Best by Jessica Dettmann

on January 16, 2019

How To Be Second Best 
Jessica Dettmann
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A hilarious and heart-warming debut that captures the dramas, delights and delirium of modern parenting. This is Marian Keyes meets Allison Pearson, with a dash of Caitlin Moran.

Going from one child to two is never all that easy for a family, but when Emma’s husband simultaneously fathers a third child three doors up the street, things get very tricky, very fast.

No longer is it enough for Emma to be the best wife and mother – now she’s trying to be the best ex-wife, and the best part-time parent to her ex’s love child, and that’s before she even thinks about adding a new bloke to the mix.

Set in an upwardly mobile, ultra-competitive suburb, this is a funny, biting, heartwarming modern comedy that looks at the roles we play, how we compete, and what happens when we dare to strive for second-best.

I’m going to preface this review by saying that I’m a second wife – although I didn’t come by my husband the way that Helen, the second wife in this story, did. My husband had been separated from his first wife for years when we met.

It was very difficult for me to buy this scenario I’m afraid. Emma’s husband cheated on her before she got pregnant with their second child and then all throughout that pregnancy. In fact Emma and the woman Troy was cheating on her with, were pregnant at the same time. Both had daughters born within weeks of each other. And not long after both girls were born, Troy left Emma to go and be with Helen, his 26yo Pilates instructor. Fast forward three years and Emma is some sort of unpaid nanny to Troy and Helen’s daughter, ferrying her to her activities (swimming, dance, ballet, French and who knows what else). She has twin beds in her own daughter’s room because Helen and Troy’s daughter sleeps over so often. They’re basically raised as twins where one of them goes away sometimes and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this lack of boundaries isn’t sustainable forever. And Helen does not reciprocate with the care of Emma’s children in the slightest either.

This was weird. I can understand that the kids are siblings and fostering a relationship between them is important. But to be frank, it isn’t Emma’s job to foster it. She’s not the common parent. Troy is. Sure, she can support it and encourage it but it isn’t on her to be the one that handles the day to day parenting and organisation of it. That is going above and beyond in uncomfortable ways. The fact that she does it all unpaid (okay Troy is slightly more generous with the child support than he needs to be but big deal) is even more ridiculous. Emma is such a pathetic doormat that I couldn’t stand her about 20 pages into the book. Troy and Helen are forever buggering off to here and there, piking out on their weekends with all three kids and forever dumping their own kid on Emma every five minutes. They live three doors down from Emma (which is also weird – there’s convenience for shared parenting and then there’s just living in each other’s pockets) but yet Troy is barely a blip on his kid’s radar and his child with Helen spends pretty much all of her time with Emma (or “Memma” as she calls her). Emma takes her to all these activities that her own child doesn’t even do, spending half her life sitting around waiting. Troy is a constantly enabled manchild – instead of being told to man the heck up and parent his own children, all of them. The book never went into what both Emma and Helen had seen in him because he’s presented as a total douchebag who is only vaguely even aware that there are children that exist that might be connected to him. Boundaries are a great thing and it seemed like they were never established, as Troy divorced Emma and married Helen. I don’t even know how this sort of scenario would evolve. The little girls are only three when the book starts – why does Helen spend so little time with her own child? And who had the bright idea that Troy’s first wife might be the ideal nanny? I understand that civility is a good aim and Emma’s constant justification is that it’s to make the kids happy. She’s so busy trying to be perfect, the best mother and ex-wife, that she doesn’t seem to realise that she may actually be harming them more than helping them. To be honest, the kids have been victimised by fostering this very unsustainable half-sibling relationship that isn’t regular at all. By the time Emma loses her shit around page 200 and something, it’s been far too long coming and all I could wonder is how it got that far and how anyone thought it was going to be able to go on until the kids were teenagers. They were always going to have to be pared back in their time spent together, because Emma isn’t the mother of one of them! Did everyone think this would just go on forever? What happens if Troy and Helen have another child? Is Emma just going to basically adopt that one too?

Don’t even get me started on the romance. Emma is so clueless. I really loathe when people do to others what has been done to them, like it didn’t hurt them. Like it’s different when they do it. It isn’t.

I realise I’ve been pretty savage on this and maybe that’s because of my own situation. But the thing is, I’m not even Emma! It’s not like my husband had an affair and left me and now I’m contemplating what it’d be like to be basically raising his child with his new wife. I’m more like Helen in this scenario, minus the cheating and I still can’t wrap my head around it. Being a first time mum is hard and sometimes you feel like you’re not doing a good job but passing it off to your husband’s ex-wife seems a bit extreme. Even agreeing to move into the same street. How uncomfortable for everyone. I think this for me, just came off as awkward rather than funny and I spent most of it just wanting Emma to seriously grow a backbone. It improves when she does but it was a bit too late and I also don’t really feel as though the ending resolved things as definitely as it should for moving forward. It just throws in a life threatening event to smooth everything over and *shrug* Done.


Book #6 of 2019

How To Be Second Best is book #2 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019.

3 responses to “Review: How To Be Second Best by Jessica Dettmann

  1. I just literally got this book in the mail today and thought it maybe looked …. okay, but goodness, now I don’t think so at all.

  2. Definitely a different response! 😁

  3. […] How To Be Second Best by Jessica Dettmann. My review. […]

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