A year ago, I reviewed Beth Hoffman's second novel, Looking for Me. Today, I'm hosting her at the library, and my mother and sister, Christie, drove eight hours to hear Beth talk about this book and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. It's an honor to once again host Beth, both as an author, and, as a woman who has become a very special friend. Since we're all going to be at the library today, celebrating Beth's books, what better time to rerun my original review of Looking for Me?
Darn that Beth Hoffman. I laughed and cried over her debut novel Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Her second book, Looking for Me, strikes out in a different direction. But, I challenge you to read it all the way through, and not be moved by it. I cried a number of times as I read this deep, thoughtful story of family and loss and trying to find your place in the world. I want to warn readers who loved CeeCee that Looking for Me is totally different. But, Hoffman creates characters who step from the page. I wanted to wrap my arms around them, hug them, and get to know them better. She breathes life into every person and animal in the book.
My review comes with a reminder that Beth Hoffman is a friend, although I've only met her once. And, I didn't know her when I reviewed CeeCee. However, I've reviewed books before by authors who I know, like, and respect, and I've still said a book had weaknesses or didn't hit home for me. Saying that, Looking for Me is a book that I'm eager to share with readers who will appreciate the characters and the beauty of this story.
Teddi Overman is the narrator, a woman of thirty-six as she tells of her family. She's an antiques dealer and faux-finishing specialist in Charleston, South Carolina. But, she's a woman who has lost so much in her life. And, that compelling story of loss and hope runs throughout the story.
Teddi grew up on a large farm in Kentucky where she and her younger brother, Josh, had the run of the farm and the wilderness beyond it. From the moment she saw Josh, she felt he was special, and she taught him what she knew about nature and the wild. He had a special connection to animals and always hoped to be a ranger. Teddi said, "My brother belonged to the forest, its creatures, and all its mysteries. And they belonged to him." And, she reveals his connection in a mystical way, from his passion for raptors, his rescue of an albino red-tailed hawk, to his feeding of a deer. And, it's that connection that leads to his disappearance at eighteen. Years later, Teddi still looks for messages that Josh is alive in the Kentucky wilderness. And, one clue sends her reeling. As she searches for answers, she uncovers truths she never knew about her own family, a family that broke when Josh walked away.
Teddi tells the story as an adult, but she goes back to earlier times throughout the book to tell what led up to the disappearance that haunts her to this day. And, in that telling, she reveals how she became the person she is. She tells about her passion for furniture, beginning with the day she found an old chair in a ditch, and dragged it home. She tells about sharing animals and nature with her brother. At some level, she understands that she and Josh were both "fixers and healers". She fixed and healed furniture. He turned to animals. Their passions were something their scarred mother never understood. She was a woman who was never happy. Teddi once told her, "The world's beautiful, but you're so busy being disappointed in everything that you don't see it." And, it would take years for Teddi to learn how both of her parents were haunted by the past.
Hoffman intricately weaves a love of nature, animals and plants and flowers, into a complex story of family, disappointment and tragedy. Every character, every animal is carefully brought to life with an essential role. There are no unimportant people or animals in this carefully crafted, compelling story. And, the injured animals in the book are treated with as much love as the injured people. Teddi, her brother, Josh, her parents, her Grammy Belle, her friends Olivia and Albert and Inez, and others, all come alive on the page. However, the hawks Ghost and Noah, the raccoon, Ella, and the dogs, Eddie and Buddy are just as essential to this story. Hoffman embodies every person and animal with their own characteristics, their own soul. They are living, breathing characters who could step off the page.
Hoffman brings her own background in interior design into Teddi's life. However, it's the author's deep compassion for animals, and her love of people that make this story so real. There's a depth and emotion to this book that's lacking in many novels. Through Teddi's eyes, we see how people can go through life, missing connections to the people we love, and often not knowing the stories in our own families.And, despite the losses, there are always mentors, people who went out of their way to help Teddie, as she did as well. Beth Hoffman's latest novel is moving, sometimes tragic, sometimes sad, but, there's always a glimpse of hope. It's a beautiful story of people finding connections, their place in life, whether it's with other people, furniture, or animals. Looking for Me sometimes just took my breath away with the compassion and kindness in the book.
Beth Hoffman's website is www.bethhoffman.net
Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman. Viking. 2013. ISBN 9780670025831 (hardcover), 354p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.