Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book Review: "When You Read This" by Mary Adkins

I'm not crying, you're crying.

With When You Read This, Mary Adkins has written a novel that is at times funny, poignant, and frustrating (because of the characters' actions or lack thereof; not because of any shortcoming of Adkins).

This is a book that deals with being honest with yourself, facing the realities you try to hide, no matter how much they might hurt. It's a book about how we handle grief and regret, and how accepting that others may grieve, too, can actually help us. And it's also a book about how we find the strength to start again, sometimes more than once.

Iris Massey was only 33 when she died, after battling cancer. For four years, Iris worked as the assistant to PR expert Smith Simonyi, and the two managed his oddball assortment of clients with skill and more than a few outlandish ideas. Iris and Smith thought the same way about things, and each brought out the best in the other.

With Iris gone, Smith is adrift. He has more than his share of other problems, problems which threaten the future of his firm, his finances, even his freedom. His clients start leaving the firm and he's unable to find new clients to take their place—and a new, overeager intern threatens to upend everything.

Before Iris died, she started a blog about what it's like to face a terminal illness at such a young age, how difficult it is to deal with the fact that your dreams may go unfulfilled, and coming to terms with your feelings about the people in your life. Her dying request is that Smith get her blog posts published in book form, which he thinks is a terrific idea—but first he must convince Iris' prickly sister, Jade.

Jade, Iris' opinionated older sister and a chef at a Michelin two-star restaurant, is rocked by grief. She's also preoccupied with concerns about her mother's being able to cope by herself. She feels robbed by Iris' death and wants to hold someone responsible. Did the doctor not prescribe the right treatment? Was Iris' boyfriend good to her? Was Smith holding her back from pursuing her dreams? Jade can't accept the fact that her sister is gone, and she definitely can't accept the idea of publishing Iris' thoughts about dying.

When You Read This is told through emails, blog posts (sometimes illustrated with diagrams), text messages, and online therapy posts. You get a unique perspective into the minds of the characters, as you see everything filtered through their eyes. The epistolary style really draws you in, and I think it intensified the emotions I felt as the plot unfolded.

I loved this book, even if I found Carl's character to be little more than a device to move the plot along, and I had to re-read a piece near the end to be sure I understood something that had happened. Smith and Jade's characters were fascinating, however, and of course, Iris' presence was tremendously felt throughout the book. I'll admit I teared up more than once while devouring this amazing story.

How would it make you feel to read the thoughts of a family member or friend who had died? Would you be able to understand their choices, to honor their wishes? When You Read This gives you a lot to think about. It's definitely a book that will stick with me for a long time to come.

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