When it Happens to You: A Book Review

When it Happens to You is by Molly Ringwald.

Yes, the Molly Ringwald – as in The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and For Keeps?.

Blows my mind that she’s a writer too. And a good one at that!

We’re so used to actors pretending they can do everything – act, sing, dance, write – that we get sort of jaded when another actor presumes to traverse a different circle. Like Snooki’s books or Paris Hilton’s memoirs – things we just dismiss because … well, they’re actors – worse, they’re reality tv actors! So though I remember all those great John Hughes movies very fondly, I was initially hesitant about picking up a book written  by the 1980s teen queen …

But I did. And I really loved the book.


When it happens to you, you will be surprised. That thing they say about how you knew all the time, but just weren’t facing it? That might be the case, but nevertheless, there you will be.

Molly Ringwald mines the complexities of modern relationships in this gripping and nuanced collection of interlinked stories. Writing with a deep compassion for human imperfection, Ringwald follows a Los Angeles family and their friends and neighbors while they negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life—revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all.

I asked for WIHTY for my birthday, and the Boy complied. It says on the front that it is a novel written in short stories – and at first I was tentative of how it would work – I mean, how can you have one consistent novel dispersed between several short stories?

But I picked it up during my road trip this year, and it was amazing! I was pleasantly surprised on how each story offered a different perspective of the overall plot, and how complicated things could be with the turn of each character.

The stories all weave around a central family – Greta, the wife and SATH who gave up her own promising Business career to further that of her husband; Phillip, her husband and a very successful businessman who has lost ties to his own family; and Charlotte, their little daughter.  The action of the first short story sets the tone for the rest of the novel: Greta, piecing together various proofs from her observations, realizes that int he midst of trying for another baby, Phillip has been cheating on her with their daughter’s 19-year old violin teacher.

As Greta rejects Phillip’s apologies and explanations we travel through the various stories – from Greta’s mother to the relationship between Charlotte and her older next door neighbour. The characters in these stories are not action-prone, rather they are reactionary. Events have happened – actions have been taken, and now they’re explaining their motivations, their discomfort and their hopes for the future. they revolve around each other, the connections sometimes farther than expected, but each offers a piece of the puzzle – of forgiveness and moving on, of finding your own life after leaving it dormant for so long, and in general, of muddling through life.

Each story starts in the middle, then ends before everything is complete, leaving us with just a piece. As frustrating as this practice can be at times, it works for this novel since the characters revolve around each other’s stories, flitting in and out of stories to add in a bit more of their own.

It is a refreshing read that leaves you both heart broken and heart warmed – with a deeper understanding of your own emotions – the monologue chapter that is narrated by Greta around the middle of the book – “When it Happens to You” – is both frustrating and gratifying, iterating the idea that the emotions and actions of the book are cyclical – that in twenty years we’ll be back at the same situation, this time with new characters, but essentially the same emotional trauma. It’s powerful and poignant and well worth the thought put into it.

In the end, I highly recommend this book – I poured over it rather than read it and I delighted in all of the stories and how they connected together.

Go out and get it! 🙂






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