Carol Anne Leathers wrote Do Over as an autobiographical story turned fictional. Leathers puts her life into the character Reb, whose story focuses on overcoming childhood abuse and centers around the question, “What would life be like if I could do it all again with the knowledge I have now?”
While Leathers’s book strives to be a source of inspiration to those who have dealt with abuse in any form—and while it’s intriguing to follow Reb on her journey of self discovery and struggle—the lack of a structured story, lack of character development, and copious grammatical errors make this book a challenge to read.
Reb endures a childhood tainted with abuse from her oldest brother. That trauma haunts her well into her adult life, and she finds herself hard pressed to trust many of the people around her. Physical injuries from her brother cause her life to spiral downwards, and at 55 years old she finds herself begging god for a do-over. Then, the morning after her prayers, she wakes up to find herself in her 4-year-old body with her 55-year-old brain. Through her new life, she makes substantial changes and learns lessons about what is truly important.
It’s clear that Do Over is about the lessons that Leathers learned as she grew up and got past her own trauma. While the character Reb does grow and progress, the book is unfortunately written such that the story and the characters fail to connect emotionally with the reader. It is difficult to be convinced or drawn in simply by a rote description of a character’s personality traits, struggles, or experiences. But Leathers almost mechanically lists off what Reb’s personality is like and how she feels in certain situations. After reading the book the reader knows how Reb sees herself, but isn’t able to get the feeling of what Reb says or how she acts when interacting with others. In other words, Reb remains two-dimensional, despite the author’s attempts to describe her.
Leathers’s writing is also very disjointed and in need of editing. Blatant grammatical errors aside, the lack of structure in Do Over makes it very hard to follow. The first ten pages are spent on what different parts of Maine are like. Certain characters are named and never mentioned again, while Reb’s son, an integral part of the character’s life, isn’t mentioned by name until the story is half over. Some parts of Reb’s tale are repeated, and some situations are not explained in a way that allows the reader to understand Reb’s mindset or motives.
Do Over also focuses heavily on religion and god, illustrating the role that both play in Reb’s recovery. As with the rest of the book, though, there’s a disconnect between what the author tells us and what we, the reader, feel. We’re told that Reb gets a lot of peace from religion, but we don’t get a real sense of how it works for her. The reader knows that Reb likes to sing for her church choir, but there’s no story or experiences that are shared to help us understand Reb’s emotions as she sings her songs of worship or attends church. As a writing instructor would point out, Leathers tells instead of shows.
Still, the author is able to convey some important ideas through Reb. As an advocate for children going through the welfare system, I found that Leathers’s book gave me a glimpse into what these children have to face as they get older. Reb’s character illustrates how small obstacles can be exacerbated by childhood trauma. Her lifelong struggle to get past what happened to her and live a normal life helped me realize the importance of early intervention and how necessary it is to get the kids I work with into stable, loving homes.
Ultimately, though, the lack of structure, character development, and quality editing keep the reader from connecting with the characters and the story in a meaningful way. While I personally applaud Leathers for her struggle to overcome her trauma and her success in moving on to appreciate what matters in life, I cannot recommend Do Over.
Xlibris, September, 2012
Paperback, 270 pages