Freeways to Flip-Flops:
A Family's Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island

by Sonia Marsh

Gutsy Publications, 2012. ISBN 978-0-985-40391-1.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 08/03/2012

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Relationships

Sonia Marsh's memoir, Freeways to Flip-Flops, gripped my attention from the first sentence and held me spell-bound through the last word. Lots of people dream of escaping to live on a tropical island. Few actually do. Author Sonia Marsh and her family did just that for a variety of reasons. The adults were suffering career and California Lifestyle burnout. One of their sons was heading down a very bad path. In desperation, they heeded the call of Belize, selling everything and moving to an island along its coast.

The sailing was anything but smooth. Their first bug-infested shack was a nightmare, but they managed to find a more satisfactory one to buy. Or so it seemed—until they ran afoul of local culture and got snarled up in island politics. Over the course of the year, Marsh gradually unwound; then the tension began building again. The subtitle of the book gives the ending away. They only lived in Belize for a year, but it was a transformative year, and the family who returned to the fringes of their high-rolling former neighborhood was not the family who had left it.

Marsh has done a superb job of crafting this story. While she writes of feeling mellow and discovering, for example, that she can, after all, meditate, she keeps the story pace moving so there is no chance readers will fall into a trance along with her. Her details are chosen with surgical precision, each serving a purpose, and her descriptions are often sublime. She doesn't pull any punches. If she was as outspoken about Belize's inbred politics and tourist-fleecing practices while there as she is in the book, it's no surprise the natives closed ranks. Neither does she spare her family. A visit from her husband's mother and aunt...I wonder if Marsh is still welcome for Thanksgiving!

The magic in the book is the way she ties the tense moments together with off-beat humor. Who would expect to smile at a description of spreading gumbo-limbo bark gunk on a boy's back to cure a flaming case of poisonwood tree rash (worse than poison ivy)? Thanks to her deft description, I did just that, again and again.

This book has totally altered my outlook, at least my outlook on life in the tropics. From now on, every time I think about tropical islands, I'll think of Freeways to Flip-Flops and wonder how closely life there resembles life in Belize. It's that kind of book. It sticks with you.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Having lived in many countries—Denmark, Nigeria, France, England, the U.S. and Belize—Sonia Marsh considers herself a citizen of the world. She holds a degree in environmental science from the University of East Anglia, U.K, and now lives in Southern California with her husband, Duke. She prides herself on being a "Gutsy" woman who can pack her carry-on and move to another continent in one day. As a motivational speaker, she inspires audiences to get out of their comfort zone, take a risk and pursue their dreams. Visit her website.

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