Let’s hope that I don’t end up with a bill for damages to this library book… I may have realized too late that snow was melting through the scarf I had used as a safe spot to nestle my stack. Oops! Of course, if I absolutely must pay a damages bill now and again, I’d be pleased to be paying for a book like Stories That Bind Us. If the library decides to replace the copy, I can keep the one I paid for (and I would love to add another Susie Finkbeiner book to my collection).
Susie Finkbeiner may sound familiar if you remember my review of her other title, All Manner of Things, one of my favorite Christian fiction reads ever. Stories That Bind Us is the meandering tale of Betty Sweet, a middle aged woman who finds herself suddenly widowed. Living in the 1960s, Betty is barely past the early stages of grief when she finds herself unexpectedly the caretaker of her kindergarten-age nephew. I could use flowery phrases to describe this book, such as “a contemplation on loss” or “a compassionate look at mental health” and insert some words like reflective and poignant. All of those would be apt, but I think it would be simpler to say that Stories That Bind Us is not action-oriented or tightly paced. It is a thoughtful, warm, and absorbing book chronicling Betty’s healing process, day to day life in the ’60s, and the growing love between a caring aunt and a hurting little boy.
Betty has a wonderful imagination, and concocts many fanciful tales to comfort and entertain her young charge, Hugo. Many of them are told in full within the pages of the novel, so if you like children’s stories, this may be the book for you. That said, little here is cloying– Betty deals with loss as well as the responsibility of seeking help for her mentally ill sister (Hugo’s mother). As I read, I found myself wishing our protagonist was more involved in her sister’s care and the doctors’ treatment choices, but I do think the way it is written is probably realistic for the time. I don’t think mental illness was understood or approached then in the same way it might be today. Like All Manner of Things, I wished that Scripture was a bigger anchor to the story and its message, but the tone was hopeful. The ending was happy, in many ways, but somehow felt… unfinished, or unsatisfying. I really can’t say more without giving away too much.
Overall my rating is a solid 3/5 stars. While acknowledging a few flaws, there is something so utterly… delightful about Susie’s style and characterization I could easily be convinced to sneak out an extra star if pressed! This book makes me feel like snuggling up with a blankie and double chocolate chip cookies to ease me through the sad parts. Not that I’d turn down double chocolate chip cookies with any book! But somehow I think they’d taste better… with the Stories That Bind Us.