REVIEW: When You Read This by Mary Adkins
Iris Massey is gone.
But she’s left something behind.
For four years, Iris Massey worked side by side with PR maven Smith Simonyi, helping clients perfect their brands. But Iris has died, taken by terminal illness at only thirty-three. Adrift without his friend and colleague, Smith is surprised to discover that in her last six months, Iris created a blog filled with sharp and often funny musings on the end of a life not quite fulfilled. She also made one final request: for Smith to get her posts published as a book. With the help of his charmingly eager, if overbearingly forthright, new intern Carl, Smith tackles the task of fulfilling Iris’s last wish.
Before he can do so, though, he must get the approval of Iris’ big sister Jade, an haute cuisine chef who’s been knocked sideways by her loss. Each carrying their own baggage, Smith and Jade end up on a collision course with their own unresolved pasts and with each other.
Told in a series of e-mails, blog posts, online therapy submissions, text messages, legal correspondence, home-rental bookings, and other snippets of our virtual lives, When You Read This is a deft, captivating romantic comedy—funny, tragic, surprising, and bittersweet—that candidly reveals how we find new beginnings after loss.
Dear Ms. Adkins,
I’ll be honest and admit that it was the comparison of this epistolary book to Rainbow Rowell’s work that caught my attention and made me ask for a review copy. Usually when promos promise that if I like that then I’ll like this, I cross my fingers, hold my breath and hope. This time I was not let down.
I feel the need to warn readers that there are things about the story which might be triggering. The blurb mentions that Iris dies (from cancer) and though most of the sections she wrote before her death are about her past, many describe her diagnosis, treatment, thoughts on death and (as told by her sister in another part) the last moments of her life.
One of the best things about the book is that none of the characters are perfect. In fact, most of them make mistakes – both minor and major – and have to deal with those. They don’t always get along or understand each other. And what could have been a depressing story is in fact very funny at times but even then there are reasons for the inclusion of those scenes. The (many) emails from Domino’s Pizza to Smith allowing him to tract his pizza delivery made me laugh but also showed Smith holed up in his apartment and grieving – for a week, living on pizza, to the consternation of the officious co-op president of his condo building.
As seen through the various means of communication, each character has a distinct voice and personality. Unlike another “email” book I recently read, I was never in any doubt about which character was “speaking.” YOPLAY’s ALL CAPS (well, mostly all caps) messages as well as Carl’s perkiness emails were a scream. Iris’s blog posts took me through the gamut of disbelief, fear, anger, hope and then acceptance.
The characters have to work through some heavy stuff: death, regret, guilt, anger. The book gives them the space and opportunity to do so. When they came out on the other side of those feelings, I felt it was believable. This is a book I inhaled in gulps and literally did not put down for hours at a time. It’s also my first A grade for the year. A-