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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Burst by Mary Otis

Mary Otis's debut novel explores the complicated mother-daughter relationship between alcoholic, erratic Charlotte and rigid, dance-focused Viva.

Mary Otis's debut novel Burst explores a fraught mother-daughter relationship. Burst is told from both Viva and Charlotte's points of view, and Otis manages to nail each.

Viva and Charlotte have always been a team. Young Viva overlooks and covers for her mom Charlotte's drinking, while Charlotte drags them from town to town as she takes advantage of people to get by. They move on when Charlotte has burned bridges again.

Viva sees Charlotte as self-obsessed and unreliable, while Charlotte imagines herself an artsy, nonconformist tough lady who was pregnant too young and has done a bang-up job.

As Viva gets older, she immerses herself in dance and distances herself from her mother.

Viva writes in a college admissions essay--which Charlotte secretly reads, and resents--that Charlotte's drinking and flakiness were always something for Viva to push against. As a reaction to her mother she shapes her life as the opposite of Charlotte's influences. Viva dances and thrives in the rigid, exacting, unforgiving yet artistically expressive environment, she largely eschews drinking, and she takes the jobs she must in order to sustain her dancing lessons and art-focused lifestyle.

When an unexpected event makes Viva vulnerable to thwarted dreams and pain, echoing her mother's disappointment from her younger years, she begins to make choices that further echo her mother's path.

Meanwhile, Charlotte feels like she's losing her grip on reality and begins acting more erratically than ever. The two women clash, resisting their reliance on each other as they become more deeply intertwined.

It's sometimes difficult for me to read about people making unhealthy or unhelpful choices for themselves, so I spent a lot of time bracing myself for the next blow while listening to this book. Yet Otis offers realistic hope in the end without neatly wrapping up her story with a bow, and she kept my interest throughout the ups and downs of the novel.

I received a prepublication audiobook edition of this book courtesy of and Zibby Books.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Mary Otis is also the author of the short story collection Yes, Yes, Cherries.

You can find more Bossy reviews of books I've read about mothers and daughters here.


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