The Other Year

Image of The Other Year
Release Date: 
August 15, 2023
Harper Muse
Reviewed by: 

intriguing, thought provoking . . . Rea Frey breathes life into universal themes concerning love, family, parenthood, forgiveness, grief, and second chances.”

In the face of tragedy, the mind rankles in hindsight, processing the attributing variables that, in a different arrangement, might have culminated in a different outcome. In two separate storylines, author Rea Frey explores cause and effect stemming from one common episode that sets the possibilities of Kate Baker’s future on disparate trajectories, and she cleverly presents the storylines throughout The Other Year by giving us two versions in each chapter: in one version, her nine-year-old daughter Olivia narrowly escapes drowning in the ocean; in the other, she does not.

In a moment of desperate reflection, Kate plays the what-if game. “What if I’d made different choices; what if I hadn’t looked at my phone; what if I’d gotten in the damn water with her instead of standing on the beach?”

It is modern day, and Kate Baker is a single mother. Divorced from archaeologist Michael Nunez, she is the primary parent of Olivia and tries her best to fill the void Michael left in being a traveling, part-time father.

On vacation in their rented beach house in Santa Rosa, Florida, Kate and Olivia await the arrival of her best friend, the widowed Jason, and his adopted daughter, Ayana, who is Olivia’s age as well as her best friend.

Kate and Jason have Jason’s deceased wife in common and share a history that reaches back decades. Now with the makings of a ready-made family, the question looms whether Kate and Jason should risk their friendship by taking it to the next level or keep it uncomplicated and maintain it as it is.

Michael Nunez is beginning to see the light. Now that he has a stable assignment in his hometown of Mexico City, he wants to regain his family. Though Kate is wary and now fiercely independent, Olivia is excited over the prospect of a stable family, giving rise to Kate’s torn feelings, and her desire to do right by her daughter.

Olivia is given to bouts of adolescent tantrums, and Kate tries to keep her balance, when Olivia tells her she’d like to spend more time living with her father. On the heels of a screaming, door-slamming fight, Kate thinks, “It has been months since we’ve had one of these all-out battles, and I instantly berate myself for the things I said. No matter how much I grow as a mother, sometimes hurtful words slip out . . . regardless of how frustrated I get, I must remember that I am the parent.”

Kate and Olivia live in Nashville, where Kate works hard as an agricultural engineer. When her boss sends her to the quaint town of Serenbe, Georgia, to evaluate the productivity of its agricultural community, the hectic pace of her life by comparison is brought into focus. Kate “promptly fell In love with the idea of a private, self-contained community that connects people to nature and each other.”

The taciturn Ian Hunter has a mysterious backstory. He runs a farm in Serenbe and is looking for an apprentice. Though well aware the position is beneath her paygrade, Kate’s skillset is compatible. She imagines a simpler life and considers the apprenticeship in Serenbe her chance to start over. Kate weighs her life’s priorities from all angles, and thinks, “It’s exactly what I need. Hard work. Important work. A distraction.”

Weary of being single, Kate considers the three men vying for her attention. Ian’s “so different from Jason, who exudes energy and sex appeal, or Michael, who is exciting and full of passion. Instead, Ian is ruggedly handsome, safe, grounded.”  In thinking of her options, Kate says, “I owe it to my daughter, yes. But really, I owe it to myself. Yet when I search my soul and think about how I want to live or with whom, I’m not sure what—or who—I see on the other side.  And I’m not sure what I’m willing to risk to find out.”

The Other Year is intriguing, thought provoking women’s fiction with page-turning notes of romance and suspense. Rea Frey breathes life into universal themes concerning love, family, parenthood, forgiveness, grief, and second chances. The story posits and painstakingly builds two sides to every issue and examines each one with a steady cast of characters individually and collectively affected to such a pitch as to convince the reader each premise is wholly reliable.