Sam Daly is a widow whose husband died only a few years into their marriage, killed in a car crash with his mother on their way home from a Mother’s Day outing. In her grief she initially ignored her father-in-law, Harold, but now he’s back in her life and with a new love, Marcie. Sam is invited to celebrate their engagement and meet Marcie’s four children at a barbecue. At first Sam doesn’t want to be involved at all. She’s used to being alone and cynical. But she ends up going to the barbecue simply because one of Marcie’s children stalks her after work and approaches her to tell her not to come.
Marcie’s four children each had different fathers. Marcie has been widowed four times when she meets Harold, but she’s no Black Widow–each of her husbands died from natural causes. There’s Jeremy, the eldest, a bundle of insecurities masking themselves in annoying and toxic statements. Colin’s father made good money and left some in a trust for him, so Colin lives in a beautiful house and plays video games all day, rarely venturing outside. Miguel, the youngest, lost his father at the age of 2. A sweet young man, he struggles with trusting relationships will last.
Then there’s Sadie, who joined the family last but is only a few months younger than Jeremy–her father married Marcie when Sadie was 13. Sadie loves to win, loves to be the puppet-master over her brothers. What Sadie wants, Sadie gets. And Sadie wants this marriage called off.
Sam reluctantly comes to find herself rooting for Marcie and Harold and their newfound happiness. Marcie is warm and ebullient, maybe a little too much into silent retreats and fire ceremonies, but her genuine compassion and interest reach into Sam’s broken, frozen heart. All too soon, Sam realizes that if this marriage is going to happen, she is going to have to actively fight. But Marcie, for all her rosiness of outlook and habit of giving her children a lot of power over her life, proves to be surprisingly clear-eyed about them, with a surprising twist that leads to an ending that, while not stereotypical happily-ever-after, is very satisfying.
Hyphenated Relations is a fun read. Sam is likable and relatable, and the story itself is often rather humorous. On top of that, the book deals deftly with the concepts of grief, family, and the importance of relationships. Highly recommended.