In Leaving L.A., author Kate Christie introduces Eleanor Chapin, who put her plans to become a child psychologist on hold while she cared for her terminally ill mother. When her mother dies, she moves to Los Angeles to start a new life. She moves in with her best friend from college, Sasha, and finds a job teaching at an exclusive private school. Tessa Flannagan, an A-List actor, retired while she was still at the top of the A-List. She wanted to be able to spend more time with her daughter, Layla, who is five years old and precocious.
When Tessa walks into Eleanor’s classroom, Eleanor is immediately star struck. Tessa is, Eleanor decides, much more beautiful in person than on the screen. Tessa is taken with the no-nonsense teacher whom Layla already has major crush on. Old habits die hard, though, and Tessa’s ability to trust is at a low point. She knows that relationships between film stars and non-movie-business people seldom succeed. That knowledge doesn’t stop her from hiring Eleanor to be Layla’s nanny when the school year ends.
Eleanor has made plans to pursue her earlier dream of becoming a child psychologist and accepts Tessa’s offer of summer employment because she needs the money. She will be leaving Tessa’s employment at the end of the summer to attend grad school.
What happens when Eleanor and Tessa see each other every day is at the heart of this book. Each struggles with her growing attraction for the other woman. Each knows a long-term relationship is out of the question. When the paparazzi rediscover Tessa, things become even more complicated.
Beneath it all, though, Tessa has been hiding a secret from everyone since she moved from her home town to Los Angeles. She knows that if she’s to have any kind of relationship with Eleanor, she’ll have to tell her the secret. But wanting to tell Eleanor and doing so are two very different things.
Christie has taken a tried-and-true story — major movie star meets a mere mortal — and made it seem fresh and new. Christie doesn’t need tired clichés to describe the attraction between the two women to let her readers know what’s going on. She uses exotic settings, Hawaii and the hills of Los Angeles (let’s face it, most of us will never live on the same street with the stars, hence its exoticness) to move her story along. Even the minor characters like Layla, Eleanor’s friends Sasha and Luis, and Tessa’s best friend Will are well drawn and interesting.
The author maintains the pacing throughout the book — it starts out strong and stays that way to the end. You’ll laugh out loud, you may even cry, but you won’t want to put this book down and undoubtedly will be annoyed when your everyday life insists that you set the book aside.
Leaving L.A. could very well end up as one of the ten best books of 2011.
by Kate Christie Bella Books Paperback, 9781594932212, 275pp. January 2011