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Book Review: And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry

And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry (St. Martin’s Press; 272 pages; $24.99).

cover_and_then_i_found_you

For Katie Vaughn, the first day of spring was always a day of firsts: the day she experienced her first kiss, the day she fell in love, the day she ran a marathon, the day she opened her boutique, and the day she vowed to love Jack Adams forever.  It was also the day she gave up her newborn for adoption in Patti Callahan Henry’s tender, sincere, and deeply poignant novel And Then I Found You, the April Book Club Selection for She Reads.

For Kate, the first day of spring held more than blooming daffodils.  It was still a day of firsts.  Kate had a ritual, a sacred ritual.  She made sure that she did something she’d never done before, something that would count as new on the first day of spring.  Six years ago she’d opened her boutique.  The year before that she ran a marathon with her sister.  Of course there was that trip to California with Norah.  Then four years ago the midnight swim in the darkest water with Rowan, the first time he’d visited her in South Carolina.  It didn’t matter what she did or said or saw as long as it hadn’t been done, or said, or seen before.

The plot of And Then I Found You is as swiftly-paced as the current of Katie’s beloved South Carolina River.  Katie is successful and in a loving relationship with her boyfriend, Rowan.  When she accidentally stumbles upon an engagement ring he bought for her, Katie comes to a crossroads of sorts.  She thought she loved Rowan, but now she finds herself unsure.  The problem is Jack, her first love and the father of Luna, the baby she gave away all those years ago.

To go on with her life, Katie feels like she has to see Jack and talk to him.  Maybe then she can have the closure she needs.  But once Katie travels to Birmingham, Jack’s home, old feelings resurface for them both.

Henry tells the story from the very different perspectives of 35-year-old Katie and 13-year-old Emily Jackson, Katie’s biological daughter.  I truly admired how Henry managed to realistically capture both points of view.  In And Then I Found You, Henry also takes us back and forth through time to provide windows into Katie’s past, crucial moments we must know to better understand her and the narrative. 

And Then I Found You is told with such honesty and heart because, for Henry, it is very personal.  Life often imitates art, but sometimes art can imitate life.

In the story, Katie has two younger sisters.  One, Tara, is a writer.  When Emily begins an online search for her biological mother, links to Tara come up over and over.  Emily contacts Tara through Facebook; this social media connection leads to a reunion.

As Henry explains in her letter to readers at the front of her novel, And Then I Found You is loosely based on a true story.  Henry’s sister placed her baby up for adoption over 21 years ago.  “It was the most heartrending, courageous and difficult decision she had ever made, and we all wept with her when she handed her baby girl to an anonymous, yet hand-chosen family,” Henry writes.  Then, one day, two years ago, Henry received “a Facebook friend request from a young girl with the same birthday as my adopted niece.  It was too much to hope for, almost too miraculous to believe.  But it was true: My sister’s daughter, my niece, found us on Facebook.”  Henry emphasizes the awesome power of social media in her story, and simultaneously inspires and moves us, yes, to tears.

Henry drew me in from the very first page, and I read this novel in one sitting, as I could not tear myself away; I had to find out what would happen.  I was surprised to enjoy this novel as much as I did.  Initially, I worried it would be too sappy and too romantic for my tastes, but my concerns were for naught.

Passionate, stirring, and full of sentiment, this is a story about first love, family, mistakes, forgiveness, and second chances.  I predict readers will fall in love with And Then I Found You, a perfect read for book clubs because it’s so easy to like Henry’s characters.  And Then I Found You is destined to become one of the summer’s hottest beach reads.  Throw this title in your beach bag but don’t forget the sunscreen and sunglasses!

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Patti Callahan Henry

Patti Callahan Henry

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Filed under beach books, book review, books, fiction, She Reads, Southern fiction, Southern writers, women's lit

Ah, The Power of Social Media

Writers increasingly turn to Twitter and Facebook to share their stories.  And sometimes they strike gold.  In 2009, Justin Halpern, semi-employed and living back home, used Twitter to post in 140 character increments the hilarious and potty-mouth things that came out of his father’s mouth.  Shit My Dad Says went on to be a bestseller and a TV show starring William Shatner.

Author Matt Stewart also used Twitter.  This Yale University graduate had written a book set in San Francisco with an unusual and memorable cast of characters.  He shopped around for a publisher but received rejection letter after rejection letter.  So he began tweeting his unpublished novel in 140 characters at a time.  Twitter users loved it!  Word of mouth spread, and Soft Skull Press released The French Revolution on July 14, 2010.

Now we have Lou Beach.  Instead of employing Twitter, though, Beach turned to Facebook, where he posted little vignettes in 420-character status updates.  That is the creation story for his new book 420 Characters.  Beach is not the first to use flash fiction, but he does it like he owns it.

Flash fiction has other names, such as microfiction or short shorts.  It is really short bursts of words, sometimes only 100 or so.  In a world where billions of stimuli constantly vie for our attention, its length is perfect.  However, flash fiction is not for everyone.  I like to connect with characters, and a reader just cannot do that in a short short.  I will say that Beach does use a few recurring characters, but I had to go back if I thought I recognized a place or a name I had seen before.  The recurring names and places did not jump out at me.

I will say some of the short shorts are unusual.  For example:

His chute failed to open and as he fell he struck a pigeon, pinning it against his chest as they rushed toward the ground in tandem.  He felt the pigeon’s heart beating against his own.  He closed his eyes and imagined he had two hearts, one outside his body and one inside, beating like a train.

Beach, as you can tell from reading the above vignette, is a very visual writer.  I love that about him.  Some of his pieces are beautiful.  Many of Beach’s shorts felt like free-verse poetry to me.  I want to share with you my favorite one:

I lay the book on the floor, open to the middle.  It’s a lovely volume, green leather covers, engraved endpapers.  I remove my shoes and step into it up to my ankles, knees, hips, chest, until only my head is showing and the pages spread around me and the words bob up and down and bump into my neck, and the punctuation sticks to my chin and cheeks so I look like I need a shave.

If you go to Beach’s website, you can listen to several recordings by Jeff Bridges, Ian McShane, and Dave Alvin. I loved hearing Bridges’ gruff voice give life to the words on the page.

I easily finished 420 Characters in one sitting.  It’s only 176 pages, and it keeps you reading.

 

Let’s not forget Beach’s talent as an illustrator.  The book is full of his original artwork.  My advice is to buy the hardcover edition because those images are amazing in color!

Is flash fiction the future?  I hope not.  It’s different, yes, but it should never replace the novel.

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