Elvis Takes a Back Seat by award-winning novelist Leanna Ellis is the endearing story of Claudia, a young widow determined to fulfill her husband’s last request by hauling a three-foot bust of Elvis Presley in the backseat of a vintage Cadillac from Dallas to Memphis to return it to its rightful owner. The road trip—taken with an eccentric aunt who actually knew the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll,” and a temperamental teen with a suspicious mind of her own—hits some royal roadblocks and detours as these women uncover pieces of their past along with the bust’s mysterious history. What they find along the way changes their lives forever, inspiring readers to also step out in faith.
Recently widowed Claudia McIntosh, after some internal debating, decides to fulfill her husband's last request to return his 3 ft tall ceramic Elvis bust back to its original owner. She's confused as to what he means by "original owner" because she thought it had always been his. To make things even more fun, he doesn't tell her who this original owner was or is! Still, she sets out to drive from Dallas, TX to Memphis, TN, hoping that a trip to Graceland will give her some answers. Joining her on this road trip are her aunt Rae (who claims to have hung with the real Elvis) and Ivy, the moody teen daughter of Claudia's longtime friend and boss, Ben.
Ivy has been emotionally closed off since her mother walked out on the family years ago. It is Ben's hope that Ivy going on this trip with fun-loving Claudia and Rhea will give Ivy the comfort and confidence to start opening up again. Little does he know that Ivy's interest in this trip has to do with her learning that her birth mother may be living in Tennessee.
Readers can expect to find your standard road trip novel where each character involved moves along happy-go-lucky until being thrust into various situations that have them having some sort of A-HA moment. Claudia, feeling bereft of the mothering aspect of her life, finds another way to get her mothering on through watching over Ivy. Watching Ivy work through her conflicted emotions regarding her mother, Claudia finally faces her own emotions surrounding HER mother's abandonment. Rae uses her life stories as lessons on how not to run from pain but through the course of the story has to learn how to actually live by her own message.
Some lessons come hard. I watch her face change, petulant one minute, angry, shamed, and sad the next. Why did it seem a rite of passage for young women to be treated poorly by men?
Probably no surprise, but each chapter features a title that references an Elvis song that also gives hints to what's ahead in that chapter. Sometimes the Elvis references throughout the story itself feel a bit unnatural, forced into the story just to get the Elvis theme in there enough, but at other times it's as entertaining as EP fans might hope for. The dialogue, at times, seemed like it relied too much on platitude-heavy conversations that just didn't sound like how the average person would converse and the humor, though it had its good moments, also had parts where the joke didn't quite land. The ending was largely predictable but there was one small surprising twist in the story's closing. The ending did turn more preachy than I was expecting. Having religion mentioned is not necessarily out of place in this kind of story, as Elvis Presley himself was a deeply religious man, but even so it got a bit heavy-handed there near the end, I have to say... to the point of making the closing scenes somewhat cringey and laughable. It felt as if Ellis was really reaching to tie in the godly aspect.. but it ended up coming off clunky and unnatural.
All in all, it wasn't a bad little trip to take with these ladies but something about it in general felt a wee bit flat for me. And maybe part of my minor dissatisfaction comes from how tiresome I sometimes found Claudia and Ivy (for different reasons). I appreciated that some tougher topics were addressed along with the light-hearted, comical moments but in the end felt the more serious bits were still played a bit too safe for me.