In Karin Tanabe’s newest novel, The Gilded Years, she weaves truth with fiction as she tells the story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar College.
After successfully passing as white at Vassar for three years, and keeping distance between herself and her classmates, Anita enters into her senior year with the same plan in mind. That is, until she meets Louise “Lottie” Taylor, a member of a very prominent New York family, and her new roommate. Lottie draws Anita in with her infectious personality and the two become fast friends. But when Anita starts to let down her guard, Lottie discovers her secret threatening everything that Anita has worked so hard for.
As a child of the 80s, it’s hard to imagine living in a time where racial segregation existed – even though I know that it did exist. It’s also hard to imagine having to go through life pretending that you are someone else, just to get something as simple as an education or a job. I think what makes this story so powerful is that Anita Hemmings did exist. And she did pass as white in order to be able to attend Vassar College.
What would you do if you were living in a time period where the color of your skin hindered you from doing normal, every-day activities? What if we didn’t have these freedoms that we take for granted? These freedoms that our ancestors had to fight for. Not only is this a beautifully written novel (I’m SUCH a Karin Tanabe fan), but it also makes us aware of how far we’ve come, and appreciate the things that we have. I cannot wait for her next novel!
“I think that perhaps everyone has a moment that splits their life in two. When we look back on our own timelines, there’s a sharp spike somewhere along the way, some event that changed you, changed your life, more than others. A moment that creates a Before and an After…Maybe it’s something wonderful. Maybe it’s something tragic. But when it happens, it tints your memories, shifts your perspective on your own life, and it suddenly seems as if everything you’ve been through falls under the label of ‘pre’ or ‘post.’”
I have a special place for Taylor Jenkins Reid novels in my heart. She has a way of conveying emotions that really pulls at your strings and allows you to feel everything that the characters do. I’ve thought this way from the beginning, ever since I was introduced to her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, knowing full well that it was going to be a tearjerker, but plunging in regardless. In her fourth novel, One True Loves, Reid explores the idea that a person can have more than one true love, as her main protagonist, Emma, is forced to choose between her new fiancé and the husband that she thought had died three-and-a-half years earlier.
Is it ever really possible to get over your true love? When Emma first lost her husband, Jesse, she thought that her life was over, and in many ways it was. The life that they had shared together ended the minute his plane crashed into the ocean. Not knowing what else to do, she quits her job and moves back to her parents’ home in Massachusetts to try and put the pieces of her life back together. It is there that she runs into her old friend, Sam, and after much soul searching, decides to give love a second chance. They become engaged and move in together, but as Emma knows, life is unpredictable, and you may not get the happily-ever-after ending that you hoped for. It is there, while leaving her father’s sixty-fourth birthday party, with her new fiancé in toe, that she gets the phone call that will change her life forever. Again. Jesse is alive. And he’s coming home. While Emma had spent the past three-and-a-half years trying to create a new life for herself and get over the devastation of losing the one person she loved most in the world, Jesse had been stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific, trying to survive and make it home to her. But what about Sam? Where does he fit in?
When Emma and Jesse are reunited, it is clear that they still deeply love each other, but it is also clear that they both have changed in different ways. Emma is working at her parents’ bookstore, something that she had swore she would never do. Jesse has experienced so much pain that Emma couldn’t possibly begin to understand. He wants to pick up where they left off, travel the globe together with their work, move back to California, and as much as Emma is grateful that Jesse is alive and wants to go back to the way things were, she is not sure if that is something that she still wants. The life that she created with Sam is the exact opposite of the one she had had with Jesse: it’s grounded, stable. Emma questions her feelings for Sam and Jesse. She feels like she’s betrayed both men in a way: Jesse, for moving on and not wanting to spend the rest of her life heartbroken and alone, and Sam, for knowing that if she stays with him, she will never be able to give him her complete heart.
It doesn’t come down to love. There is no question that Emma loves both of them. But every love is different. You’re never the same person that you are with your previous love, nor do you love that new person the same way. It doesn’t negate one or the other. It doesn’t mean that you cared for one more than the other. It just means that you loved them differently. For Emma, what it comes down to is what she wants out of life. After losing Jesse, Emma became a different person, because there’s no way that you couldn’t lose the love of your life and not have it affect your fundamentally. “Do you ever get over loss? Or do you find a box within yourself, big enough to hold it?” How do you choose between the person who was ripped from your life too soon and the person who helped you come back from the dead?
For me, this was probably the most heartbreaking of all her novels. It’s hard to think that our true love can be ripped away from us without a moment’s notice. It’s devastating, really, to have built a life with someone and to have to start over. But what is equally devastating is the fact that you might be able to move on some day, or, if you were the person that was lost, that they can move on without you. Can replace you. That you can replace them. But you can never actually replace a person that you loved so deeply and lost.
Taylor came to my office the week after I read this manuscript, and I had the pleasure of discussing One True Loves with her. We talked about Jessie and Sam, and Emma’s relationships with both of them. We discussed the ending, and who Emma picks. I told her that I had been a little disappointed, because of who I wanted Emma to be with and who she ended up choosing. I was disappointed, but I understood. I knew he was the right choice, but in the end, I was still routing for the other guy. Out of the people who had read the manuscript thus far, I was the only one who had expressed that opinion to her, and Taylor had found that interesting, as did I.
So who does Emma choose in the end? There’s a point in the novel where Emma and Jesse spend a few days together at his parents’ cabin. It was also where they had had their wedding. It was the first time since his return that they really had a good chunk of time alone and were able to really open up and discuss all that they had been through. It is another moment in the novel that is fitting of the quote above, another moment that helps Emma to make the decision that she needs to make. The choice that she needs to make. It is possible to have more than one true love in your life, but you can’t have them at the same time.
There are two types of people in the world: the ones that allow themselves to be defined by past experiences, and those who use their hardships as a way to strengthen themselves and rise above. In Amy Hatvany’s latest novel, Somewhere Out There, we see both types, as two sisters who were torn apart when they were young are reunited as adults.
When Jennifer got pregnant as a teenager, against her mother’s wishes, she decided to move in with her boyfriend and keep the baby. Little did she know that he would kick her out. That she would become homeless. That she would have a second child. And that she would end up in prison. For shoplifting food at a grocery store. For her children.
Natalie Clark never knew her birth mother. She was too young to remember her. She didn’t even know that she was adopted until she had to do a family tree project for school. Now that her own daughter has to do the same, Natalie musters the strength to ask her parents the questions she was always too afraid of, finding out that she has a sister that she never knew existed. Natalie feels betrayed by her parents’ actions and immediately goes about trying to find her long lost sister.
The last time Brooke Walker saw her mother or little sister, she was four years old. She moved from one foster home to the next, eventually growing up in a state facility, while her baby sister was adopted. Brooke lives in a small studio and works as a waitress. She doesn’t have any friends, and seems to only date emotionally unavailable men. Brooke never lets anyone get close to her. She keeps herself at a distance from everyone that she comes in contact with, preferring to feel nothing than to get hurt. She blames her mother abandoning her and her sister for never trying to find her.
When Brooke and Natalie finally reunite, Brooke is cautious and keeps her distance. Even when she starts to let her guard down, she isn’t able to completely open up and trust her sister. Natalie wants answers to why their mother abandoned them, but Brooke is hesitant. After digging, Natalie finds out more than she could have imagined, leaving herself heartbroken for both the little girl that she had been and for the pain that her mother – Jennifer – had gone through.
Natalie and Brooke eventually meet Jennifer, but are their relationships ones that can be repaired? There were many moments in the novel that I found myself in tears…mostly for the chapters with Jennifer. Yes, her children went through a lot, having lost their mother and each other, but what Jennifer had to deal with was truly heartbreaking. How do you come back from a loss like that? Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, even if you want to, even if it is presented to you, it’s not enough. Natalie was able to use her losses as strength, something that Brooke has a hard time doing. But what about Jennifer? Will she be able to find a way to let her daughters back into her life, or will it break her?
“Every second of every day, the world is splitting further and further into an infinite number of parallel universes, where everything that could happen is happening.”
Have you ever wondered about what would have happened if you had made a different choice? If you had chosen to follow your heart and not your head? If you had said yes to something, instead of no? How different would your life be? I would like to think that there are certain things that happen in your life that are supposed to happen, and that the choices that we make are just part of the process to get there, that their impact – whatever it may be – is not significant enough to change our destiny. But what if that isn’t the case, and certain choices really do change your destiny? In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s new novel, Maybe In Another Life, she explores the concept of destiny and the affect our decisions have on it.
When Hannah moves back home to Los Angeles after yet another failed relationship and mediocre job, she runs into her high school boyfriend, Ethan, while out celebrating with her best friend Gabby. At the end of the night, Hannah has to decide between going home with Gabby and staying out with Ethan. Such a simple decision, but one that ends up having a huge impact on her life, as we are shown both parallels.
It’s funny how a simple decision can be life altering. Simple, every-day decisions. We don’t think that the little things always matter and tend to take a lot of things for granted, but this novel makes you reevaluate things that you once thought of as insignificant. It makes you question your life and your choices. It makes you question whether or not you are living up to your potential – living out your dreams. This is what I love about Reid. She has a way of conveying emotions that stick with you long after you’ve finished the final page, and her words have the ability to alter your views on life and the way you live it.
In Karin Tanabe’s second novel, The Price of Inheritance, we are brought into the world of art history, famed auction houses and antiquities, in an occasionally witty, sometimes dark story that will keep your mind turning long after the last page has been completed.
The novel follows Carolyn Everett who, for the past ten years has worked in the American furniture department at the auction house Christie’s, a job that she loves more than life itself, something she took pride in. Having grown up in Newport, Rhode Island, and being best friends with one of the wealthiest families, Carolyn was ambitious, and learned early on that she had to work hard in order to get to where she wanted to go. After a career-defining mistake leaves Carolyn unemployed and, more importantly, unemployable, she heads back to Newport, leaving everything and everyone in NYC temporarily behind to try and create a new name for herself. While attending an auction, Carolyn purchases a Middle Eastern bowl for $20 on a hunch that it was much more valuable. This puts her on a hunt to find the bowl’s origin, and on a collision course with its former owner, marine Tyler Ford. As Carolyn’s relationship with Tyler grows, and she gets closer to solving the bowl’s mystery, she stumbles toward something that has the potential to not only wreck her already tainted career even further, but her life as well.
The Price of Inheritance is as much a story as it is a lesson in art history, but in a good way. The intricacies that befall the novel are told in such a way as to evoke intrigue, even if art is not your forté. The novel also extends the idea that things are not always what they seem, and that sometimes the only thing you can trust is your gut, regardless of what your heart or head may want.
“Just because you can live without someone doesn’t mean you want to.”
In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s second novel, After I Do, she explores what happens to relationships when you compromise too much of yourself – your wants and your needs – in order to make the other person happy and avoid conflict. Not only does it have the power to tear two people apart, but it also can make you forget the person that you once were.
Eleven years ago, when Lauren first started dating Ryan, she knew that what they had was special and that it had the power to last. For a while things were perfect, until, suddenly, they weren’t. After yet another argument – spawning from losing their car and ending with a vase being thrown against a wall – they come to the realization that the love they once shared has faded. Not ready to admit failure, they decide to take a year off from their marriage, living separate lives – with zero contact – in hopes that after the time is up, they can regain what they lost.
At first things are really hard, but as the months go on, Lauren gets closer to her family, discovers new interests, and realizes that she can be happy without her husband. She starts questioning everything about herself and her relationship, no longer sure if what they had is fixable or if she even wants to fix it, at the same time that Ryan starts to realize that it is and they can. But, is Ryan’s faith enough to save them in the end when Lauren’s is starting to run out?
After I Do is about what happens when love fades, and about giving everything you’ve got in order to get back what you lost. It’s about how your heart breaks when you say goodbye to the one person that you thought would be in your life forever, and what you do to cope with that loss.
“All that matters in this life is that you try. All that matters is that you open your heart, give everything you have, and keep trying.”
If you had the opportunity to leave everything behind and start a new life, would you take it? In Sarah Pekkanen’s new novel, Catching Air, she writes about two couples tied together through blood and little else, who embark on such a journey, and a mysterious woman who joins them with secrets of her own.
Kira was an associate at a law firm in Florida and was so stressed and overworked that she barely had time to do anything else. Her husband Peter had different jobs here and there, but it was Kira who was the bread winner. Then comes the phone call for them to join Peter’s brother Rand in Vermont to help run a bed-and-breakfast, and the normally practical couple decide to make the leap. Little did they know that it wasn’t going to be as simple as it sounded, and issues that they had long buried would start surfacing.
When Alyssa and Rand decided to buy the bed-and-breakfast, they thought it was going to be like every other one of their adventures – something they would do for a short period of time until they grew bored, then leave it behind and venture onto the next thing. But, even for the world’s most carefree couple, life gets in the way. Will they be able to make it or will it be the thing that tears them apart?
Then there’s Dawn, a young woman who fled from a bad situation and ended up at the bed-and-breakfast in Vermont. Will she be able to safely start a new life or will her past come back for her?
Catching Air is about people at a crossroads in their lives, which is why I think that it is so appealing. We all reach them, some not as obvious as others, but, every time we have to make a decision, whether it be getting a new job, ending a relationship, moving, we don’t realize just how much it will impact our lives. It is the way we behave and the choices that we make that make us who we are, that allow us to fail or succeed, which is what Pekkanen is showing us. Running away doesn’t solve anything because you’re not really making a decision as much as you are avoiding it, which only works for so long. You can’t run away from life. You always have to make a decision in the end.
In Amy Hatvany’s new novel, Safe With Me, published in March by Washington Square Press, she weaves a tale of abuse, loss and unconditional love through three distinct alternating narrations of two women and one teenager, who are connected long before they meet.
It had been nearly a year since Hannah Scott lost her daughter as she was biking out of their driveway and hit by a car. Since then, she threw herself into her work, opening up a second hair salon and moving into an apartment above it, trying to pick up the pieces when all the while she’s still devastated by it. It’s not until a new friend walks into her life (and her salon) with a connection to her daughter that she is finally able to face the situation and start healing.
Olivia Bell has lived her life in fear for a long time, fearful of her husband’s sometimes abusive tendencies, and fearful of her daughter Maddie’s struggling health, which, after an organ transplant a year earlier is finally improving enough that she can return to school. It is when Olivia picks Maddie up on her first day back in tears that she decides to make her daughter feel better…by taking her to the grand opening of a new hair salon in town. Little do they know that their trip to Hannah’s salon will change their lives forever.
At the heart of this novel lies the concept of the power of emotions and how strongly they can affect us, sometimes without us even knowing it. Hatvany makes us take a look at our own lives and relationships, past the ideals, past the rose-colored glasses, and allows us to see them for what they really are (were).
“We try on personalities like second skins, learning to present only the best versions of ourselves to the world, fearful of what might happen if we reveal just how imperfect and vulnerable we really are. But it’s these imperfections…these struggles, that truly connect us.”