Between Mom and Jo is the story of Nick, who has two moms. Erin, his biological mother, is the type of person who usually ignores problems, hoping that they'll just go away. Jo is a fighter. She doesn't take crap. At all. Pretty early on, it's evident that Nick has learned both methods of dealing from his moms and will eventually be pretty balanced in his actions.
The first half of the book is a chronicle of Nick's major childhood memories: Realizing why Jo doesn't go to family events, his first memory of playground taunting, Jo's struggles with alcoholism, an especially awful babysitting experience, getting the Sex Talk from Jo, Erin's bout with cancer, a watermelon seed fight. The second half is set in the present, and is about what happens when Erin and Jo split up.
It gets ugly. Really, really ugly. The whole second half just made my jaw ache. (It didn't make me cry—it wasn't that kind of book—it was closer to rage. Nick's emotions just tunneled their way right into me. Rage, pain, frustration, betrayal, confusion. It's raw.)
For various reasons, Jo never adopted Nick. She has no legal right to see him, and Erin takes full advantage of that fact. Part of me understood why Erin was doing what she was doing, but the other part of me just hated her. And Jo, the woman who had been painted as a fighter from the very beginning, just... didn't. She wouldn't fight for Nick—which, on one hand, was devastating, but on the other, made me think of the King Solomon/cut-the-baby-in-half story.
Phew. While the events in the book clearly make a strong case for legalizing gay marriage, it never feels preachy—which is pretty darn impressive. The three main characters are so well-drawn that I understood them even when I disagreed with them. But the real strength in the book is Nick's voice. Usually, a well-written book allows me to form an empathetic bond with the characters: in Between Mom and Jo, what I felt, I felt as Nick, rather than with Nick.