Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Book That Matters Most

Title:  The Book That Matters Most
Author:  Ann Hood
Publication Information:  W. W. Norton & Company. 2016. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0393241653 / 978-0393241655

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Ava saw it as soon as she turned the corner."

Favorite Quote:  "Could a writer understand how her book had saved someone long ago, when the world was a fragile, scary place and the people she loved weren't in it anymore? Could a writer understand that her book had mattered more than anything?"

The Book That Matters Most is less about books than I expected it to be. Ava's husband just left her for someone else. To add further injury, he chooses to live in the same neighborhood with his new significant other. Her son is off living his own life. Her daughter Maggie is in school in Italy. Ava is still enveloped in the sadness of her husband's betrayal and of losses from her childhood.

Her friend Cate is a librarian (YAY!) and convinces her to join a book club. The year's theme for the club is for each member to pick "the book that matters the most" to them. As a reader and a member of book clubs, I love that idea. I don't know that I could ever pick just one though. Different books have impacted me at different times in my life. "It mattered most to me then because of where I was in my life. So in a way, there isn't just one book that matters most, there might be several, or even a dozen." Fortunately, the right book has always found me when I needed it. I hope that always remains true.

In this book, the group's choices are as eclectic as the bookclub members themselves. Their discussions and reactions to the books are as diverse as their backgrounds. "When you read a book, and who you are when you read it, makes it matter or not." Sounds great so far, right? It sounds like an opportunity to read about books, to learn about characters by what they choose to read, and to relate to the idea that books can help us feel, express, and let go of our emotions, particularly sad ones. I can't wait to read more.

This book, however, gets complicated because it veers away from that main theme and introduces other perspectives. There's Maggie, Ava 's daughter who is off in Europe and in a crisis of anger, men, and drugs. There's Hank, the police detective who investigated Ava's sister's death and who has secrets of his own. There's the members of the book club, each with their own story and some with their own connections - old and new - to Ava. Of course, there's the ex-husband and his new significant other.

Then, the book gets even more complicated and really becomes about Ava's childhood, life, and family. The book she chooses for book club is a children's book that helped her survive the summer her sister died and the following year when she lost her mother. That grief is one Ava has never come to terms with.

The story becomes more about the mystery of the book, its author, and the mystery of what really happened in Ava's childhood. The big reveal, however, comes as no big surprise. Too many clues throughout the book point to that conclusion. Unfortunately, the reasons behind it are never truly explained, and the emotional reactions to it never expressed or dealt with. That ends the book on a note that feels incomplete.

I still love the basic premise of this book and wish the book had stuck closer to that.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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