A mother and her teenage daughter come to terms with a traumatic event that will change both their lives forever in the midst of handling every-day life. The world of "Life on the Refrigerator Door" is extremely small, if you're going by normal literary standards. The story takes place entirely via Post-It notes between a divorced mother and her fifteen year old daughter, Claire. The two characters and the indirect supporting cast (we learn of Claire's father and friends and Mom's friend Gina through the notes) are never physically seen, and the setting is limited to what the two women briefly describe in their messages.
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At first, Claire and Mom seem to have the typical relationship- Mom leaving notes for Claire to go grocery shopping, Claire telling Mom that she's babysitting and needs extra money for those summer sandals she HAS to have- with a few bumps along the way. Claire is the average teenage girl- she's boy-crazy, yells at her mom for not understanding her life, and so forth. Mom is patient and admonishing when she needs to be. Mom works in an OB/GYN's office, which explains her constant absences.
One day, Mom leaves Claire a note saying she'll be late due to a scheduled doctor's appointment. There is a lump in her breast but it's nothing worrisome. Claire understandably frets despite Mom's brushing aside the matter and telling her to relax. Later, it's discovered Claire has every reason to worry: Mom has breast cancer. What follows is a combination of Mom clinging to her remaining normalcy, Claire resuming her teenage life, which includes her first boyfriend, Michael, and the two struggling to cope with the news. Mom refuses to share her pain and emotional devastation with her daughter, leading Claire to lash out at her mother several times, eventually leading to Claire wanting to live with her father to escape her mother's frigid emotional wall. Mom apologizes and agrees to share this new journey with her daughter.
As months pass, Claire breaks up with Michael, gets back together with him, and then breaks up with him again, all the while worrying about her mother and her slow decline in health. Mom undergoes radiation therapy, surgery, and chemo, and celebrating Claire's sixteenth birthday, calling her daughter a miracle.
September arrives, and Mom is in the hospital, still undergoing chemo. Claire does everything she can to raise her mother's spirits, including discovering a hidden talent for writing by composing poems for her mother. Mom finally accepts the necessity to share everything about her cancer with Claire by telling her in a long letter about a support group for women with breast cancer. She shares all of her hopes and dreams with Claire, knowing they will never come to pass. Claire breaks up with Michael for good and begins attending the support group with Mom. They begin work on a photo scrapbook, share thoughts about Claire's friend James who is becoming a constant figure in her life, and seem to rebuild the life they had before Mom's diagnosis.
In the final pages of the story, Claire writes two final notes to her mother, who has died. Claire updates her mother on her 'new' life: she has moved in with her father; their house will be sold, and how she still attends the support group. In the closing note, a year has passed and Claire is now seventeen. She is dating James and admits to throwing their old house key into the river and the release she felt from doing so. Claire closes with a loving note to her mother and clearly intends to keep her always in her heart.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved the technique of an entire story being written through 'fridge notes. It was actually a release to not know what the characters looked like and such, which actually made the story more real.
Best scene in story:
My favorite was Claire's final note. Her life has come together and her maturity is clearly seen. The future seems bright for this young girl who has seen so much.
Opinion about the main character:
Claire is the typical teenager- she's obnoxious, sensitive, sweet, funny, bratty, and altogether human. We never know what she looks like, but her words make her real enough to be believable.