Chris Kriegstein is a man on the move, with a global career that catapults his family across North America, Europe, and Asia. For his wife, Elise, the hardship of chronic relocation is soothed by the allure of reinvention. Over the years, Elise shape-shifts: once a secretive Southern Baptist, she finds herself becoming a seasoned expat in Shanghai, an unapologetic adulterer in Thailand, and, finally, a renowned interior decorator in Madison.
But it's the Kriegstein daughters, Leah and Sophie, who face the most tumult. Fiercely protective of each other--but also fiercely competitive--the two sisters long for stability in an ever-changing environment. With each new move, the girls find they can count on only one thing: the consoling, confounding presence of each other.
When the family suffers an unimaginable loss, they can't help but wonder: Was it meant to be, or did one decision change their lives forever? And what does it mean when home is everywhere and nowhere at the same time? With humor and heart, Brittani Sonnenberg chases this wildly loveable family through the excitement and anguish of their adventures around the world.
Drawing on her upbringing as a "third culture kid" (a child who grows up in a culture other than that of his or her parents), Sonnenberg delivers a sympathetic, funny debut. Elise wants to escape from her hometown in Mississippi, so when she marries Chris Kriegstein, CEO of a company whose job takes him around the world, she's on board for globe-trotting adventure. Although Elise is at first ambivalent about motherhood, she and Chris eventually have two beloved daughters, Leah and Sophie, who grow up as much in Shanghai and Singapore as they do in the U.S. They return to the States once a year ("to remind you of what you were missing and where you were really from"), but the trip often leaves the family feeling fragmented. Then tragedy strikes, and the Kriegsteins must consider what home and family mean when there's no real home to return to. The story spans 1885 to the present, and some of the chapters, written from multiple points of view (including that of Elise's childhood home, Chris's German great-grandmother, and a "we" meant to encompass the voices of all third-culture young adults), read like writing class exercises. But these continuously shifting perspectives also help convey the disorientation of the Kriegsteins' lives, and Sonnenberg eloquently illustrates the challenges and rewards of expat life.