Jenna Bush Hager says her September 2023 Read With Jenna pick is "hilarious" – and that should be apparent from the cover.
"Amazing Grace Adams," a debut novel by British author Fran Littlewood, is the story of one woman's no good, very bad day.
"It takes place over one day with a ton of flashbacks, so you see why Grace's life has been shattered," Jenna say. "You find out her marriage is falling apart. Her daughter won’t speak to her."
Despite all this, Jenna says the book is "wildly funny" in its approach to "dealing with so many of the issues that mothers and wives face mid-age."
Speaking to TODAY.com, author Littlewood says her intention with “Amazing Grace Adams” was to write the book she had been looking for in middle age.
“I was so fed up with the kind of vanilla, sanitized cultural depictions of women over 40. As I was hitting these ages it wasn’t how I felt. This notion that we’re supposed to be downtrodden, over the hill, boring — all these adjectives attached to the middle-aged space. I felt that it needed a rebranding,” she says.
In Grace, Littlewood says, she’s writing “the interesting and fun and funny, ambitious, nuanced woman” that reminds her of her “friends, sisters and the women (she) knows.”
Prior to writing the novel, Littlewood was a financial journalist. She signed up for a creative writing MA as a “last chance” stab at a dream.
“I wanted to give it a go. Creative writing was the only thing I wanted to do. I felt like if I tried, I wouldn’t regret it, even if I didn’t manage to get published,” she says.
She happened to do so the same day she booked her wedding to her husband — they share three kids — and dropped her daughter off at school. “It was a really industrious day,” she says.
In a way, that “really industrious day” encapsulates what Littlewood is trying to do in “Amazing Grace Adams”: Show that middle age can be a canvas for reinvention.
“It can be a real Renaissance time. This midlife time has so many challenges in some ways, set against a culture that prizes beauty and youth. But there are real positives. There can be a return to the authentic self. The pre-adolescent self,” she says. “I know women who are starting new ventures, doing new things.”
Though Grace Adams is, as the title suggests, amazing from the start. A polyglot who speaks five languages, Grace was once a TV personality before her unexpected pregnancy thwarted her course.
“I wanted to make her a little bit extraordinary, which is why I kind of gave her this polyglot angle. I love the irony of this fact that she she speaks his five languages so beautifully, but throughout the book, she she can’t find words to articulate her heartsickness and her grief at what’s happened to her family,” she says.
Littlewood, a mother of three teenage daughters, drew on her relationship to inform Grace’s sometimes contentious, always rewarding relationship with Lotte.
“My psyche is on the page in this book. There’s a sense of loss in the book — the feeling that her 15-year-old is growing up and leaving her. You know it has to happen. But there’s such a loss in that,” she says. “It’s something that really ambushed me as a mother, a lot sooner than I was ready for. It’s an accidental theme that emerged: The grief of a parent losing a child to adulthood."
Littlewood set out to make the book as "honest as she could."
"I wanted it to be unvarnished," she says, full of the thoughts that we keep to ourselves – but maybe shouldn't.