Strayed's debut tells the story of Teresa Wood, a Minnesota woman who has just learned that she has cancerous tumors along her spine. Her children, teenager Joshua and college student Claire, are embarrassed by their mother's popular radio show, Modern Pioneers! They don't realize how vital Teresa is to them until they learn that she's dying. Teresa relies upon the help of her children and her common-law husband, Bruce, to aid her emotionally and physically as she undergoes painful radiation treatments.

When her family discovers the radiation is doing little to stop the rapidly growing cancer, and Teresa is admitted to the hospital, each family member experiences emotional turmoil. Claire considers having an affair with Bill, a man at the hospital whose wife has terminal cancer. Joshua drops out of school and sells marijuana and meth. And Bruce plans his suicide, believing that he cannot live long without Teresa.

Deeply heart-wrenching, Strayed's novel uncovers the depths of one family's tragedy. As Teresa's family and community are inextricably changed by her sudden illness, their ability to forge on, despite their pain, is a testament to the resilience of humanity. (Feb., 336 pp., $24.00)
Reviewed by: 
Sheri Melnick