While I was reading this book, I started inserting little colored stickies to mark “Things I Love About This Book.” Pretty soon, the whole book looked like it was lost in a sea of Buddhist prayer flags in Kathmandu.
This book has so many more layers than I can tell you much about without spoiling it. There is a theme that comes from the poem by Robin Behn, “It Is Not Always Possible To Fall in Love in Blackberry Season” which inspired the author to create this story, and the theme from the poem by Emily Dickinson, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” describing what hope is. [“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops – at all…”]
Marvelous allusions to religion echo the theme of mixed marriages. And above all, this is a love story that is clever, heartwarming, heartbreaking, heartsoaring, hopeful, funny, and just should not be missed.
It begins with the protagonist, Shandi, being caught, along with her 3-year-old son Natty, in an armed robbery in a convenience store. Taken hostage along with her is William Ashe, whose story is told in alternate chapters. Shandi feels an instant bond with this “big blond wall of a man” who put his own body between the gunman and Natty.
Shandi and William each have BFFs of the opposite sex. Shandi’s is Walcott, and William’s is Paula, and I love how much all of them care about each other and are there for each other. I love the fabulous portrayal of how William speaks. I love his many references to an old vegetable book he had as a child to help him understand emotions. (“The radish is happy.” “The eggplant is sad.”) For example, take his observation when William, in high school, concocts a surprise to impress a girl, and she finds out it was he behind the surprise:
“‘You did this? You?’ She crosses her arms across her chest. Her shoulders fold in toward themselves and her spine hunches. …. William thinks, The squash is disappointed.”
I love the metaphors. Walcott calls Shandi “Easter Candy” when she is acting “like a kid on a bad sugar high.” Shandi admires how good William is at doing nothing, saying, “It was as if he had a thousand toys packed up inside himself…” And there is her wickedly sardonic description of her stepmother Bethany that reads in part: “She was exactly like her house, expensive and elegant, but not at all comfortable.”
Mostly I love how all the characters have defined who they think they love or don’t love because of ideas about who they should love or could love or shouldn’t love, rather than who they in fact love – whether because of genetics, chemistry, or destiny, yet another theme of this story.
Finally, the belief in goodness permeates this story. As William says, even if you have faulty genetics or a bad environment, these only set the range of potential behaviors, and we all can act within that range for good or ill. Some of the characters have trouble believing in God, but they can believe in goodness, and if they would only understand that those two philosophies were not incompatible, all things could be possible.
Evaluation: This is a wonderful book. If you have not yet gotten yourself a present for Christmas, I would recommend this book. It will fill you with joy!
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2013