/How We Came to Be’ A story of managed and mismanaged relationships

How We Came to Be’ A story of managed and mismanaged relationships

Johnnie Bernhard’s second novel How We Came to Be is a story about mother-daughter bonding. It is hard not to sympathize with Karen. She works hard at a job she doesn’t feel valued, raises a child she did not ask for, and navigates her loneliness as a single, middle-aged woman. We learn to relate to Karen’s loneliness by how she handles it. She drinks a lot of wine, despite being at war with her conscience, is very sarcastic, and has two quirky coworkers she can lean upon for self-esteem. Tiffany, Karen’s niece moves to Austin to study at the University of Texas. Parallels are drawn between Tiffany’s college experience, Karen’s struggles with being a single parent and Karen’s relationship with her mother. Karen lost her father years ago, while Tiffany has a toxic relationship to a college boy. Karen, now fifty, wonders how she can meet new people at a large university. It is inspiring to see Karen, who is filled with self-doubt and doubt, build her relationships. After being overbearing with her concerns, she learns to let Tiffany have her freedom as a freshman. Karen becomes close friends with her WWII refugee neighbor and has a profound new outlook on life. Despite her past romance failures, Karen opens up to a new man and they hit it off. It is touching to see Karen grow more confident in her role as teacher, something she excels at despite the poor leadership of her principal. The story is still a disappointment, despite Karen’s personal triumph. For the second half, Tiffany’s path as an independent young character nearly disappears. Karen learns of her niece’s college woes (falling behind in classes, making friends, falling in love with a troubled boy), and her trust in Tiffany is soon shaken. The book’s events prove that Karen isn’t alone in her distrust. What was once only Karen’s paranoia about her parents becomes Tiffany’s reality. Tiffany’s boyfriend turns up to be a scumbag, and she flees at Karen’s request. She struggles with schoolwork. As far as the reader can see, she doesn’t make new friends. Tiffany eventually gets pregnant and moves back to Houston to seek help with the child’s care. Karen is able to find the love of her life and security she desires through her new romance. It’s difficult to forget Tiffany. How does she feel about all of these changes? It almost seems as though Karen’s achievements were dependent upon Tiffany’s death. The book shows Tiffany happy to return home and have her aunt take care of her child. She also wants to be able to make peace with the college experience that was chaotic. She becomes a middle-aged woman with the youthful body of a teenager as her goals. However, this is not to say that Karen’s happy ending was not what we wanted. Bernhard does an excellent job connecting readers to Karen. This allows us to understand her strengths and weaknesses. It is hard to imagine how Tiffany could be content to give up her college life in order for the convenience of being the main character. Johnnie Bernhard will be appearing on the panel “For the love of It” at 9:30 am at the State Capitol Room Room 201H. Sara Lewis, Alexia Arthurs and Tiffany Quay Tyson will also be on the panel. Margaret Bradham Thornton is another panelist. Bernhard will also sign books at the tent at 11:00 am.