News & Politics

Book Review: "If Only" By Carole Geithner

Geithner, a GW professor and the wife of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, drew on personal experience in her first novel.

The debut of a new young-adult novel doesn’t normally make waves in Washington circles–but it does when the author’s spouse is one of the leading figures in the President’s Cabinet.

Carole Geithner’s novel, If Only, follows a 13-year-old Montgomery County girl, Corinna Burdette, through the year after her mother’s death–the baked ziti from neighbors, the first grocery-shopping trip with her father, the hopeless calls to her mother’s voicemail to hear her again, and all the landmarks after a parent’s death that every bereaved child dreads.

Geithner has spent two decades as a social worker and grief counselor–she’s currently an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University–and the novel draws from personal experience. The author’s mother, Portia Sonnenfeld, died when Geithner was just out of college, and some details overlap between the novel and real life: Sonnenfeld conducted the Chamber Symphony of Princeton; Corinna’s mother performed with the fictional Montgomery County Chamber Symphony.

Carole Geithner, who met her husband, Tim, when they were at Dartmouth, has lived in Bethesda on and off since the ’80s, most recently arriving in 2009 with the couple’s two children a few months after Tim Geithner–then head of the New York Federal Reserve–was named Treasury Secretary. Local settings are sprinkled through the book: Georgetown Cupcake, the Capital Crescent Trail, Lisner Auditorium.

The novel’s title comes from the year’s many hypotheticals for Corinna–all sharing the same desperate wish that her mother were still around: If only her mom had been diagnosed sooner, if only treatment had been successful, if only it wasn’t her own mother. “If seasons were tubes of paint, last fall would have been deep, dark black,” Corinna says. “Winter was also dark, but more like a foggy gray with lots of huge black blobs mixed in. . . . Grief is hard. Really hard. And you can’t put the cap back on when you want to, like you can with a tube of paint.”

This article appears in the March 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

Carole Geithner

Scholastic Press


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