Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: "When I'm Gone" by Emily Bleeker

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for making it available.

How well do we really know the people we love, those we've built a life with?

If you ask Luke that question about his wife, Natalie, he'd say he knows her better than everyone. They dated in high school before he had to move away, and once they found each other again in college, they seemed destined to be together. And together they've built a family, with three wonderful, loving children.

But when Natalie dies of cancer, it throws Luke for a total loop. He doesn't know how he'll cope, how he'll be able to raise the children without her. And when they return from Natalie's funeral, he finds a letter on the floor of the entry foyer, delivered through the mail slot. It has no postmark, and it's in Natalie's handwriting.
Dear Luke,
First let me say—I love you…I didn’t want to leave you…
The first letter was written on the first day Natalie's cancer treatment began. And then additional letters show up, with varied frequency—sometimes daily, sometimes a few days or even a week passes before the next one arrives. The letters give Luke advice on how to handle the children, what to do for them and for himself, and give him insight into how Natalie was feeling, physically and emotionally. He doesn't realize just how much he comes to depend on the letters, even as Natalie forces him outside his comfort zone, to do things he never would have expected he'd be able to do.

But the more he reads them, the more the questions start to arise. Who was the "Dr. Neal" she keeps referring to in her letters, and what was their relationship? Why did she have an envelope for an organization that facilitated adoptions, and why is there a picture of Natalie and her high school boyfriend at the organization's headquarters? Were there other things she kept hidden from him all this time?

When I'm Gone is the story of a man who has led a difficult, turbulent life but finally finds a haven, only to discover that the haven is not quite what he imagined. And as he tries to process what might be crucial secrets Natalie kept hidden, he also must keep his children surviving and thriving, deal with a disapproving mother-in-law, and the stress of the strange relationship of Natalie's best friend and her policeman husband. For a man raised in the midst of anger and chaos, this may be more than he can take.

I enjoyed this book but it was a different story than I expected, although that didn't disappoint me. Luke is an interesting, complex character, and you really felt the emotional turmoil he was experiencing, the conflicts between wanting to wallow in his own grief and be present for his children. I just felt as if Emily Bleeker tried to pack in so many different twists and turns, so many different crises, that the book became a little too melodramatic for its own good. I think it could have flourished with perhaps a little less drama, because the core of the story was just so good.

I really enjoyed Bleeker's first book, Wreckage, and this one reinforces that she has strong storytelling ability. It raises some interesting questions, and may even choke you up a little. I could totally see it as a made-for-television movie, and that's not a bad thing.


  1. I just finished reading this book and found your review entirely through a little Google-ing. I must ask - does the name of your blogspot come from the Billy Joel song?

    1. It does. "Summer Highland Falls" is my favorite Billy Joel song.