Her novel—“The Road at my Door”—is a harrowing tale of redemption about a teenage girl (Reese Cavanaugh) from a supposedly normal, middleclass American family in the Post WWII era of the 1960s. Growing up in Pacific Palisades in LA, we watch as this girl seeks love from her intelligent, distant, and putative mother, and seeks belonging with her older, rebellious sister. With Dad constantly on business trips around the country, and having come from Depression-era parents who hadn’t taught him the emotional tools of being a parent, Reese slides further and further into a state of stagnant frustration.
Until she meets Father Donnelly.
This local Catholic priest visits the home one day and Reece’s mother is enthralled. Soon Reece’s mother and the priest begin a secret, impassioned love affair that only Reece is aware of. Or so she thinks.
Told against the backdrop of the Cold War, the struggle for women to find their voice in career and culture, and the quiet, brutal dysfunction of one family caught up in the turmoil of a potentially deadly secret, we follow along as Reese struggles for the truth—her own and her family’s—and we watch as her mother knocks her down time and time again, blocking her from her own sense of self.
But this novel isn’t about the messiness of organized religion or corrupt priests. It isn’t about Feminism. It isn’t about the Cold War. And it isn’t about depression, secrets, or seeking love and failing. It is, at its most vibrant core, about self discovery, and, ultimately, about finding yourself. The search for identity is universal and is a theme that has been explored for centuries now, in various artistic and literary forms. Lori Windsor Mohr does it here, with her teenage protagonist who tries so desperately and courageously to jump over the maddening and unfair hurdles placed in her way by the sickness of adults, and worse, her primary caregivers.
But we read this novel—and love it—not because it’s another novel about sickness, depression and abuse. Lord knows we have enough of those on the market. No. We read “Road” precisely because it brings us full circle and reminds us of the most infallible axiom that human beings grapple with: The human need to survive, thrive, and become who we are.
It is this message of hope that Mohr leaves us with, awash from all the sadness and frustrated, failed attempts at Reece receiving love from her parents when they weren’t equipped to give her what she needed as a child, what all kids need; unconditional love.
If you’ve ever been a teenager and were in a similar position, or if you ever knew a teen who needed guidance—navigating the often rough waters of youth—this novel is a point in the right direction. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Using concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” as a guidepost in her journey, “Road” is perhaps more telling of the struggle of teen girls now, in 2015, than when her story takes place, in the early 1960s. The characters and emotions are deep and complex, the plot keeps us moving, and we truly care about Reece. The goals and motivations of the characters are clear. There is an element of suspense in this novel but it is certainly more “literary” than anything else.
David Corbett, New York Times Notable author (nominated for many other awards) and author of “The Art of Character,” a widely noted writing manual for aspiring authors, said this about “The Road at my Door”:
“I dare you to pick up this book and not fall in love. Lori Windsor Mohr has created in young Reese Cavanaugh a heroine with much more than a unique voice. Yes, she's instantly likable. Yes, she has pluck and wit. But through a series of harrowing ordeals and misplaced allegiances that would break most young women—all in pursuit of just one person she can trust—Reese demonstrates an irresistible combination of spine and heart, insight and sheer humanity. Add to that a menagerie of equally unforgettable characters and you have one of the most engaging novels you could ever hope to encounter.”
There you have it in a nutshell. Told in a spine-tingling first-person confessional style, this novel has the realism and grit to demonstrate what it might really feel like, to be unloved, to be tossed aside by your supposed protectors, to be cast away like an intruder from your own home, all the while carrying a toxic secret that has the power to kill.
If you need a good book for your friend, partner, family member or colleague for the holiday season, put Lori Windsor Mohr’s “The Road at my Door” on your list. You won’t be disappointed.