I was pleasantly surprised. Ava's husband has left her for another woman; her two children Maggie and Will are out of the house (and out of the country); she's alone, bitter, and needs to get out and mingle. When a chance to join an exclusive book club at her local library pops up, she decides it is a good way to dip her toe into the social pool. The club decides that the next year will be all about reading and discussing books that matter the most to each of the ten members. One book each month, presented by one of the members. Ava's choice, From Clare to Here, is a poignant novel about the loss of a daughter, and a mother's choice to stay in the land of the dead with her instead of returning to the land of the living and her other daughter. It hit pretty close to home for Ava; as a child her younger sister Lilly fell out of a tree and was killed in their front yard. Ava's mother, Charlotte, ended up killing herself a year later. Ava grew up with her father, haunted by the deaths of her sister and mother.
The novel moves back and forth between Ava's book group (and her budding romance with one of the members) and her daughter Maggie, who is living in Paris--even though Ava thinks she is studying in Florence. Maggie is a mess. She's always been a handful; Ava and her husband struggled to keep her straight and away from drugs, alcohol, and bad choices. Maggie left Florence, following a boy to Paris, and now is in deep trouble. Addicted to heroin, she's living in a haze, dangerously roaming around Paris, becoming involved with unsavory characters. She lies to Ava and sends deceptive texts with stock photos of Florence to her mother to keep her thinking Maggie's still in Florence.
Meanwhile, Ava has promised her group she will bring the author of From Clare to Here to the December book group. Only problem: Ava has no idea where Rosalind Arden is, and time is growing short before she's forced to admit she lied to the group and can't produce Rosalind Arden.
One of the characters talks about books that matter most to us. Kiki says:
"...I think it's impossible to pick such a book. When you read a book, and who you are when you read it, makes it matter or not. Like if you're unhappy and you read, I don't know, On the Road or the Three Musketeers, and that book changes how you feel or how you think, then it matters the most. At that time."
That passage had an impact on me. People ask me all the time what my favorite book is, and I never have a good answer. This is because so many books have mattered to me at different times in my life. I don't have one go to book that comforts me. They all comfort me at different times. I don't have a favorite, I have favorites. Many books have changed my perspective on something, taught me a history lesson, made me cry, helped me with my grief. You get a taste of that in the characters of this book, and the books that matter most to each one of them.
If you didn't already know the power of books to change you, reading this book may very well give you a kick in the pants. If anything, it will get you started on a book list, or encourage you to start or join a book club. Just remember: watching the movie isn't the same as reading the book--don't be like Ava in her first few months at the book club.
Rating: 8/10 for a novel that wasn't what I expected. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. A look at life after a marriage ends, the grip that drugs can have on a soul, and grief that never lets go.
Available in hardcover and e-book.
Thank you JBP for the review copy!