Breaking the Bank by Yona Zeldis McDonough

August 30, 2009
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Breaking the Bank
Yona Zeldis McDonough

Pocket books
Trade Paperback/368 pages
ISBN: 978-1-439102534
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". . . magical realism with a soul. . ."

Breaking the Bank: Magic and the seedy side of Manhattan and Brooklyn take center stage.

Mia Saul is really having a hard time. Her daughter Eden has decided to become a vegetarian, and someone stole Mia’s bag of groceries. She’s late picking Eden at school and feels at the end of her rope. Mia works temporarily at a publishing house since losing her editing job and the temp job will soon come to an end. She’s tired of being broke and struggling to make ends meet, but she will make sure that Eden eats. She goes to a local ATM, puts in her card and punches in her code. Instead of the one hundred dollars she requests, the ATM dispenses two hundred dollars.

That can’t be right… Mia checks the slip and only one hundred was debited from her account. She requests an account balance. It has the same amount, so she takes the money and buys food she hopes Eden will eat.

The next time Mia goes to the same ATM the lights flash and two hundred dollars comes out, and once again only one hundred dollars is debited. Something’s wrong, but after all the problems she has faced – her husband leaving her for another woman, losing her job and the constant struggle to make enough money to afford the cramped apartment she now lives in – Mia isn’t about to give back the gift. Each time she visits that ATM, more money comes out, a lot more. She begins to share the wealth with strangers and friends. But that kind of luck can’t last for long – can it? If her mother and her brother Stuart ganging up on her by supporting her cheating ex-husband is any indication, the luck won’t last.

Who hasn’t wished for a money tree to solve all her problems? Obviously author Yona Zeldis McDonough has, except in her dreams the tree is a magical ATM that gives money to her main character Mia Saul in Breaking the Bank.

I have to admit that at first I was skeptical about this particular story. If Mia is such a good person, why didn’t she go into the bank and give the money back? Why didn’t she tell the bank manager the ATM had made a mistake? That would be the honest thing to do. However, it wouldn’t be what most people facing the kinds of troubles Mia faces would do. It’s similar to finding money in the street.

Mia is basically a good person who has had a very rough time. In many ways she needs to grow up and let go of the past by letting go of her ex-husband. Despite the magical elements in Breaking the Bank, McDonough does a good job of making the whole situation one that resonates with anyone going through a similar situation. That’s the charm of the story and of McDonough’s simple and heartfelt prose. Among these roses are bloody thorns that none of the characters avoids for long.

The only character who doesn’t quite ring true is Lloyd, Mia’s ex-husband. He travels around the world living a lavish lifestyle and yet can’t afford to pay child support. Instead of support, he makes excuses. Those few times he deigns to spend time with Eden he takes her to expensive restaurants. On top of it all, he questions Mia’s parenting skills and threatens to take Eden away. He even gets Mia’s family on his side. Mia and Eden are living on the edge and yet Mia’s rich brother won’t help her, and Lloyd doesn’t pay child support. Although it does come together in the end, this situation seems a bit contrived.

It is difficult enough to pull off a single mother and cheating, selfish ex-husband and make the characters likeable and sympathetic, but I was on Mia’s side from the start. By the finish of Breaking the Bank, I cheered Mia’s chutzpah in her attitude change and her change in outlook to become strong and in charge. This is magical realism with a soul, a flawed and shining soul, framed with solid writing that renders the characters poignantly real.


Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell


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