Monday, April 4, 2016

Review: When I'm Gone by Emily Bleeker

When you die, all of your memories, and dreams for the future--for yourself and for those you love--go with you. Unless, that is, you write some of these things out, intending them to be read after your death. People who have done this are occasionally featured in the human interest segment of the news and we viewers think how poignant and heartbreaking but wonderful it is for the family to have these things in their loved ones' voices and handwriting after they are gone. But what if it isn't just memories and dreams in the letters left behind but also secrets, including one so large that it can only be told after one person's death? In Emily Bleeker's newest novel, When I'm Gone, there is such a secret, one slowly revealed through the letters that keep trickling in for the duration of this heartfelt and difficult tale.

Luke Richardson was married to the love of his life. He's known his wife Natalie since they were children and she was there for him during the worst day of his life. Losing her to cancer has gutted him and he has no idea how to go on and be the parent that their three children need. But he's all they have left and with the help of Natalie's best friend, Annie, and the young college student, Jessie, who Natalie wanted him to hire as a part time nanny/babysitter for the kids, he has a small network of people to help him get through. When he finds a blue envelope, addressed to him, in his wife's handwriting on the day he returns from her funeral, he feels as if he's got a piece of her back.

As the letters keep coming at random intervals, Luke holds them tight to his heart. They tell him things he knew and things he never knew. They relive the Richardsons' relationship and marriage, give him hints on how to help their children in their grief, and remind him to keep living and moving forward even when he doesn't feel ready. But they also start to raise questions in his mind about what he thought he knew and the Natalie he was sure shared everything with him. He is driven to revisit painful times and memories, to wonder who the people Natalie mentions so frequently are, and what secret she hints at is, revealing it so slowly and cautiously. As Luke grapples with his feelings over the uncertainty the letters inject into his memories of their life and love, Natalie's best friend Annie, who has been a rock for Luke, is also struggling. Luke's concern for her brings terrible memories of his childhood flooding back, memories of the terror and abuse he and his mother suffered at his father's hand. And finally, in his grief Luke and Natalie's oldest son Will finds a box of his mom's stuff with an envelope from a home for unwed teenagers postmarked around his birth and draws his own conclusions about what the missing letter must say, sending Luke on a mission to uncover the truth, for Will and for himself.

Using letters from Natalie allows her character to be fully fleshed out in her own voice rather than just as a reflection from those who love and miss her. This gives a depth to Luke and Natalie's marriage that might otherwise be missing and helps the reader understand why Luke feels so hurt and surprised when he discovers that he might not have known his wife as well as he thought. The conceit of the letters also gives the reader an understanding of the sorrow, anger, acceptance, regret, and the other ten billion emotions that run through a person living with terminal cancer and not just the grief and devastation of those left behind. Bleeker portrays her characters' emotions beautifully, weaving the horrible and the sublime, the mundane and the extraordinary together very well. The novel touches on so many bigger concepts: love, friendship, abuse, terminal illness, family, hope, and healing. Natalie's secret is eventually revealed and while some readers might question why she kept it so long, especially with such a loving husband, especially when telling could have alleviated suffering, it is ultimately a surprising and satisfying one. The end comes a bit quickly for all of the emotion leading up to it.

This is a story that will break your heart but one that will also leave you with the feeling that life can and does go on, even happily sometimes. A fast read about the safety net of people who hold your heart, loving, moving on, and embracing forgiveness, this is a book that celebrates life, no matter how messy or short, and readers coming to it for the first time will have a hard time not reading it all in one big gulp.

For more information about Emily Bleeker, take a look at her website, her Facebook author page or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to the publisher and Lisa from TLC Book Tours.


  1. Sounds wonderful - I'm adding it to my TBR list - and I may start writing letters to be "left behind". ;-)

    Thanks for the review.

  2. I've often thought about how I would react and what I would leave behind if I were in a similar situation. What a challenging, heartfelt read!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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