Set in small town Michigan, Untethered paints a picture of an idyllic life for Bradley and Char, with Bradley’s daughter Allie as the centerpiece of their family. Allie’s mother Lindy is conveniently absent, living the California life.
But from the first page, the family is torn asunder in the aftermath of Bradley’s accidental death, leaving behind the sadness and the sense of a family adrift. Packing up Bradley’s desk, going through memories together, and trying to accept the condolence calls and casseroles, Char’s new life feels empty. Who is she, if not Bradley’s wife and Allie’s stepmother? Now that she has “lost” these roles, she is vulnerable to Lindy’s sudden demands for Allie, as well as to Allie’s behavior, which has turned distant, sullen, and rude. Her grades are slipping, she has chosen questionable new friends, and nothing Char can do seems to turn things around.
What is more challenging is that everyone seems poised, waiting for Lindy to call the shots regarding Allie, while she passively controls all of them when she keeps changing her mind. Yet when Allie visits her for spring break, she is mostly absent every day until late at night. Char feels at the mercy of Lindy’s whims, and believes that Lindy’s behavior is creating a wedge between her and Allie.
Allie has a unique bond with a ten-year-old girl named Morgan, adopted out of foster care. Morgan has mental health issues and a dramatic (and annoying) way about her. When Allie began tutoring her, they connected. Their relationship becomes a focus later in the novel when something happens to the girl. Something that will stun them all. Will Char and Allie’s bonding moments over Morgan’s trauma help connect them again? Will Lindy use the episode to tear them apart even further?
It was easy to empathize with Char, but she did have a tendency to sit back and let others call the shots, even the teenager, whom she seemed afraid to cross. The way she dealt with Lindy seemed too conciliatory, and I often wanted to yell at her. Allie’s rudeness and passive-aggressiveness was annoying, but she also seemed to be calling out for someone, anyone, to take control. Lindy, of course, was so unlikeable that I hurried through the pages that showed her condescending attitudes and inability to remember the names of everyone that she had known for years. She had a way of putting everyone down, which may have been a way of covering her insecurities in the mothering role.
Themes of blended families, the broken foster care system, and abandonment did keep me engaged, and I enjoyed the story. But after the intensity of Allie and Morgan’s traumatic episode, the ending was wrapped up a little quickly, fast forwarding to two years in the future. I would have preferred being shown how the events unfolded, but the conclusion was a satisfying one. 4 stars.