At first glance, Megan McAndrew’s Dreaming in French might appear a light and fluffy read. It is told from the perspective of socially awkward 15-year old Charlotte Sanders, who is consistently in the shadows of her glamorous mother Astrid and her popular older sister Lea. It is 1979 when Charlotte’s story begins, as she ponders over the absence of her menstrual cycle when all around her political crisis ensues. When Astrid’s involvement with a Polish anti-Communist lands Astrid in a Polish jail and destroys her marriage, Charlotte and Lea go in separate directions: Lea chooses to remain with their father Frank in Paris, and Charlotte accompanies Astrid to New York.
Throughout the first half of the novel, Charlotte in all of her innocence comfortably takes on the role of adult and caretaker in her mother’s household. When Astrid finally finds a niche for herself in the fashion world as a boutique owner, Charlotte busies herself with higher education. It is at Yale that she finally begins to deal with the ramifications of growing up too quickly. She throws herself into numerous one-night stands, unable to allow herself to become emotionally unattached to anyone. Eventually Charlotte becomes emotionally available to a handsome Pakistani scholar, if only because subconsciously she knows they will never achieve a happily-ever-after with one another.
Though at first easy to relate to, Charlotte becomes selfish, childish, and difficult to accept; it is the secondary characters in the novel whose progress and growth deserves applaud and recognition. As she ages, Astrid becomes more sure of herself and develops into a kinder, softer person. Frank gets a second chance at a being a father and sharpening the parenting skills he lacked with Lea and Charlotte. Lea lives a comfortable and happy existence as the mother of several Polish-French children.
The novel ends with Charlotte 15 years later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with many political changes taking place all over France. She has finally settled into a life that makes her comfortable, reflecting on her childhood and the positive and negative of the life she led so far.
McAndrew is an honest, realistic writer. She is adept at showing humans at their best but also their worst. There is only acceptance in Dreaming in French, not necessarily the happy ending that many readers might hope for and expect. After everything that Charlotte Sanders endures, I found myself hoping she could have one. In her own way, Charlotte chooses her perfect happy ending: finding herself and actually liking the woman she has become.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. Instead of becoming a teacher, she tried her hand at technical writing and content writing for various companies. Occasionally she dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.