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Three tales of women’s struggles and secrets

In three new summer novels by best-selling authors, women handle struggles and secrets in different ways.

Shea Rigsby doesn’t just love football, she lives football. Specifically, Walker University football.

In Emily Giffin’s The One and Only (Ballantine, $28), Shea recites obscure stats and cheers for the Texas team year-round. After college, she drifts into a job at the school’s sports information office. Now in her early 30s, Shea has no other hobbies or interests, no plants or pets – or friends, aside from lifelong bestie Lucy Carr, daughter of Walker’s esteemed Coach Clive, who addresses Shea as “girl.”

“It was hard to say when my infatuation began,” Shea says, “because from a very young age, I adored Coach Carr.”

She’s like a teen crushing on a rock star – even shelving her journalism dreams because that would mean leaving Walker U. and its coach. But Shea gradually changes: She lands a newspaper job covering Walker football and starts dating the Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Yet her adoration of the recently widowed coach remains – until ugly truths shake her fangirl loyalty, and then no game plan or sports cliche can help.

Giffin’s books are hits – okay, touchdowns – with chick-lit fans, but some women may prefer their lit less infused with Heisman Trophy trivia.

In All Fall Down (Atria, $26.99), by Jennifer Weiner, a magazine quiz on addiction prompts Allison Weiss to examine her own habits.

A successful blogger with an oversize house in suburban Philadelphia, Allison fulfills the demands of every­ one else: daughter Eloise, who’s already bratty at age 5; husband Dave, who survived his newspaper’s buyouts only to be saddled with extra work; her father, beset by Alzheimer’s; and her mother, who’s unable to cope with the illness.

Allison’s pills, left over after dental surgery and a herniated disk, reside in an Altoids tin, and she pops them like breath mints, mindful that “with painkillers, you did not slur or get sloppy. Your child would not come home from school and find Mommy passed out in a puddle of her own vomit.” Cue the Stones’s “Mother’s Little Helper.”

Responding to the magazine quiz becomes an inner monologue as Allison struggles to prove she doesn’t have a problem. But her editor wants more content, her father must move to assisted living, Dave’s sleeping in a separate bedroom – and Allison’s scramble for narcotics leads to an online resource for prescription drugs and financial juggling. Yes, she’ll stop, Allison vows: “Just not right now. For now, I needed the pills.” Even as her delicately constructed existence slips apart, Allison cannot accept that she’s like any other drug addict.

Weiner’s heroines are usually more light-hearted and tinged with humor, but Allison’s flaws create a vulnerable appeal.

Karen White’s A Long Time Gone (NAL, $25.95) follows Vivien Walker as she returns from California to Indian Mound, Miss., a place she left nine years earlier.

Now Vivien seeks a respite from life’s wrongs, including a bitter divorce: Ex-husband Mark won’t allow her to see Chloe, her 12-year-old step­ daughter. She struggles with depression, anxiety and the meds to tame them. She’s certain that Bootsie, the beloved grandmother who raised her, will make the world right. But Bootsie dies – just one of the jolts awaiting Vivien. Among the others: Her mother, Carol Lynne, is sliding into dementia, which forces Vivien to assume the dreaded caregiver role. And a wild storm uproots a gigantic tree next to the Walker home, revealing skeletal remains that may hold the key to a disturbing family mystery.

Vivien’s current-day chronicle alternates with flashbacks told in diary entries from Bootsie’s mother, who disappeared during a flood, and the youthful Carol Lynne. Their collective views offer glimpses into old secrets and future hopes in White’s richly detailed narrative.

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