Happy Thursday! Today, I am going to introduce to you a talented author: Abby Slovin, who wrote Letters in Cardboard Boxes. This book was one of those reads that spoke to me and changed me. Not only did this book take me on an emotional journey, but it made me stop and think about letters. How many of you take the time to sit down and put pen to paper and actually write a letter? In this day and age full of technology we are more likely to send short texts and emails. The problem is they won't last...how will future generations learn about our day to day life when so much of our interactions are lost? Letters and journals have staying power and provide a window into the past and enable us to hear the voices of our ancestors. I was immediately drawn to the premise of this book, and I can relate to finding an old stack of cards and letters stashed away. I have saved much of the written correspondence from my grandparents, and I recently was cleaning out my closet and stumbled across them. I sat in my closet and sobbed as I read my grandma's words.....Abby Slovin had one of these emotional experiences when she uncovered a cardboard box full of letters written between her grandparents while they were young and in love. What a treasure! I invited her here to share this amazing story with you all. First, here is a bit more on Abby:
Abby Slovin was born in the summer of 1983 and lived in the same house on Long Island until attending the University of Michigan. She has a deep love for New York City, Brooklyn especially, where much of her family has its roots. She loves to spend time outdoors, travel, research family genealogy, and relax at home in Jersey City with her husband, Dominick and dog, Grumpy. Abby wrote Letters In Cardboard Boxes, her first novel, over the course of three years from November 2007 until October 2010. She is currently working on her second novel, and is hoping readers will give their input on her next project. Readers can also access other work by Abby on this website, including poetry and short stories. You can find Abby on her website, Goodreads, and Facebook and twitter.
Abby just recently became a new mom, and thankfully she wrote this post before her bundle of joy came to disrupt her world! Congratulations, Abby!
Here is Abby to share with us her experience on finding letters in a cardboard box:
Guest Post by Abby Slovin
Readers and fans of Letters In Cardboard Boxes are consistently asking about the inspiration behind the story, which (surprising to some) has less to do with a personal journey through grief or loss, and more to do with a moment of discovery after my grandmother passed away. This blog post represents the first time I’ve tried (really tried) to relive that moment and convey the power that such a moment has. I hope I’ve done it justice, but hindsight can sometimes be murky, so please bear with me.
There are certain aspects of that day I remember vividly. And, in fact, this experience began similarly to how it is depicted in Letters (for those who have not yet read the story, a similar set of letters appears to Parker, our main character, in the last section of the novel). Buried inside a cardboard box that my grandmother had once kept close by, I found a handful of faded envelopes wrapped with a rubber band that nearly disintegrated when I pulled it off. They were faded and worn, the ink nearly illegible. It seemed like it had been a million years since someone had attempted to read them.
I held one of these letters carefully and read:
“I’m sitting down to the pleasure point of my day. I feel as if we really are together when I read your letters. They are so typically like you and…I like them very much.”
I soon realized that these were letters between my grandmother and grandfather during their courtship in the 1940s. They couldn’t have been older than eighteen or nineteen years old at the time. I carefully considered what I was doing in my own life at eighteen years old, bashfully realizing that I wasn’t nearly as eloquent or honest as this, let alone was I building such an intimate relationship with another person.
“I miss you already and would probably confine myself to a paragraph or two of mushy words of endearment, but somehow this clean, country air makes me think clearly and sensibly. However, you are not a victim of such circumstances, so please write and tell me you miss me too.”
It was somewhat of a relief to find these remnants of their lives, not like finding an old birthday card from my grandmother, or a letter she had written me in summer camp. These were different, breathing life into two very unique and special people who were no longer here. To witness the love, the humor, and the kindness in their words was powerful. It was as if I could recognize them as young people even though I only knew them in a much older context. Something about the aura of these letters just felt so much like “them.” I was so relieved that I could still remember what “them” was, as it had been years since I had even seen, heard, or touched either of them. I smiled at the memories I had of them, relieved that I could still remember.
“It really is such a good feeling to know that you miss me, for I miss you and can honestly say this is the first time I wanted such a lovely vacation to come to a close.”
In a way, I always knew my grandparents loved one another. That’s not the sort of thing you can hide, even from a grandchild of five, ten, or even fifteen years old. You could just feel their love, their respect, and admiration for one another. But, despite knowing that this love existed between them, something very different surrounded this moment when I truly felt it. Also, in now knowing that they not only loved each other, but were in love. These are two very different things. And, having the evidence of it sitting in my hands, the access to a truly intimate moment that they never expected someone else to share with them, held more significance than I expected.
“The sooner I mail this letter, the sooner you receive it, the sooner I get an answer.”
Holding each letter, inhaling its contents, I almost felt guilty, as if I was invading their privacy. Would my grandmother have wanted me to know about such an intimate moment in her life? Would she have felt embarrassed? Or pleased to share this moment with me? The part that felt heaviest on my heart was the fact that I would never be able to know. I could never ask her. Could never get an honest answer. And these letters were the few pieces of her voice I had left.
I held these letters, while accepting the strange paradox that my grandparents felt so close to me at the same moment that they felt so very far away.
“It is so beautiful here…I do wish you could join me…Keep those arms open for me.”
I reached a point where I had to put the letters down. The sheer weight of the moment began to bear down on me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about them, even after I had put the cardboard box away and left the room. Even weeks later, as I continued to go about my day-to-day, the letters still had a strange hold over me.
I was twenty-three years old at the time. I imagine the experience would have been different if I had found them at thirty or even fifty years old. Just as if, similarly, reading a novel at one point in your life can have different relevance, almost an entirely different meaning, if you read it at another point in time. Words have a strange way of doing this. It felt like they were calling to me at that particular age, saying, “This is what love looks like. Don’t forget.” And, thankfully, I held on to that message.
I also began to wonder how others might have responded to such a discovery, and the result is Letters In Cardboard Boxes. That’s not to say the entire story is devoted to replicating this moment (in fact, the moment of discovery is more like a side story to the main plot of Letters). Parker, my main character, confronts a similar moment at a different time in her life, involving a different set of people, through a very different set of circumstances. She, also, finds a very different message intertwined in these letters. But what we both share is this moment of discovery, a moment that changed both of us in some very significant ways.
I’ve heard from some of my readers that these moments of discovery are shared by many of us, particularly when it comes to discovering remnants of a loved one’s life after they have passed. These stories have the potential to heal us in times of grief, to instill guilt or sadness, happiness or hope, or even to inspire us to write songs or stories or novels. But more than anything, they have the power to create shared moments between us.
I hope some of your readers will consider sharing their own stories, their own moments of discovery. I’m eager to listen…
Thank you, Abby for sharing those intimate letters and your emotional experience of uncovering them. Your post truly touched me and is definitely one of the most memorable guest posts I have had on the blog. Abby is offering a chance for one of you lucky readers to win a signed copy of her book. To enter fill out the Rafflecopter. This contest is open to U.S. residents only. Good Luck!a Rafflecopter giveaway
Here is my review:
Letters in a Cardboard Box by Abby Slovin
Winner of the First Horizon Award for superior work by a debut writer, Letters In Cardboard Boxes tells the story of an eccentric grandmother and her granddaughter alongside a series of fantastical letters they once exchanged. Their letters once traversed the East River to help Parker escape the loneliness of a childhood without her globe-trekking parents and communicate during her turbulent teenage years. Now, nearly a decade later, Parker begins to rediscover this letter writing tradition, as well as the family’s untold stories and, unexpectedly, letters from her grandmother’s own youth that paint a very different portrait of the woman who raised her.Letters carries us through the universally-shared experience of loss and the process of coping with life’s unexpected twists and turns. Through unusual and bold characters, the story moves through some of its heavier themes with honesty and humor.
Paperback, First, 260 pages
Published September 9th 2011.
Four and a half stars: A poignant and emotional journey through the five stages of grief.
Parker usually doesn't stop to get the mail. What is the point? Hardly anyone takes the time to write letters anymore and it is usually just junk flyers and bills. Today in an effort to avoid the irritating questions from her nosy neighbor, Parker stops and gathers her mail. She tosses it on the table and doesn't give it a second thought until later that evening when her boyfriend calls to cancel their plans. She inadvertently knocks the stack of mail on the floor, and while she listens to her boyfriend's excuse she gathers it up, and amongst the catalogs there is a letter from her grandmother. Parker tears it open and her heart stops as she reads the words: "I may be dying, I am very ill and may not survive the night." As she stares at the letter her world comes crashing down around her, and she is brought back to reality by the phone ringing. It is her grandmother. She is not dead! Relief and then anger floods through her, why would she write such a thing? Parker soon learns the truth, her grandmother is not well. As she desperately tries to cling to her rock, her world begins to unravel around her. Parker set out on a heart wrenching journey and discovers a few things along the away about love, thanks to some letters tucked away in a cardboard box. Can Parker find her way back and learn to live?
What I Liked:
- It isn't often that a book comes along and totally grabs a hold of you and shreds your emotions. This book was one of those remarkable reads that has left an indelible mark on me. My heart ached for my beloved grandparents as I read this book. It was a stark reminder to not take your loved ones for granted, not for one minute. If you are lucky enough to still have your grandparents, reach out to them and hear their stories and learn about their past before your chance is erased. I am truly grateful that in my younger years I had the wisdom and foresight to do just that. I had four amazing grandparents and I am so grateful that I was able to spend ample amounts of time with them while growing up, and I was able to hear so many of their stories. Of course, it feels like it was not enough now that they are all gone and I am left with this big aching hole in my heart. This book brought so many of those emotions back to me, and I was changed by this read.
- This is a certainly one of those reads that will truly make you feel. In the beginning, we are introduced to Parker, a lonely girl who lives a reclusive lifestyle. Her parents began leaving her alone at twelve to traverse the globe and pursue their careers. Her grandmother stepped in a raised her and started a tradition of letter writing. Parker is one of those characters who is flawed and broken. I admit, she is not easy to relate to and she is difficult. However, following someone who is broken and learns to find her way is always rewarding, and this book shows how Parker goes through the five stages of grief as she tries to help her Grandma battle Alzheimer's and slowly finds a new beginning. If you enjoy books that share tremendous growth and transformation, this is one to check out.
- I loved the incorporation of the letters in this book. There are many letters between Parker and her grandmother while she grew up. The two played a game where they sent letters from places they were supposedly visiting all over the globe, while in reality neither one of them ever left NYC. I loved how the letters had such special and insightful messages on growing up. I also liked the letters between her Grandmother and a lost love. They were voices from a bygone era, touching and tender. This book left me wondering what future generations will glean from our society, since we don't take the time to write letters or journals much anymore. Our words are reduced to short emails and cryptic text messages. Sadly, so much of our communication will likely be lost. Perhaps it is time to consider jotting down your thoughts to preserve them for your children. I can only imagine how amazing it would be to discover a trove of letters written by my grandparents. I cling to some of the last letters and cards that my grandparents sent before they passed. What legacy will we leave behind for our children?
- While Parker was the main character, she wasn't the shining star. I struggled with her, but thankfully there are some amazing secondary characters, such as her Grandmother, Jerry her aging next door neighbor and even the philosopher bum. Her Grandmother is amazing with her quirky antics and her wonderful advice. I was blown away time and time again by the wisdom in Ms. Slovin's words. Her writing style is memorable and amazing.
And The Not So Much:
- I wanted more on the letters between Parker's grandma and her long lost love. I was fascinated by this window back in time and wished that I could spend more time in the past.
- I adored Jerry, and wanted desperately to know more on his backstory about what happened to him after he left and how the reunion was for him when he returned all those years later.
- I wished that there was more on the relationship between Tanya and Parker's grandma. There are only brief snippets on the friendship between the two and I wanted to know the details on how they bonded and how Dotty helped save Tanya. In general, I wanted more details on Tanya, about her life and her burdens. I felt like I was missing something when it came to Tanya.
- I was thoroughly disgusted by Parker's absentee parents and fervently hoped that there would be some change or reconciliation, but alas, just as everything doesn't always work out in real life, it is true in this book. Even though I was disappointed that there were not a lot of happy endings in this book, I was glad that it maintained that note of realism. Life is hard and it isn't fair, but make the best of what you have, and that is how this book plays out.
- At the end, I felt a little cheated. I wanted an epilogue to see how everything played out for Parker. I needed to know that she was okay and that she indeed found her way. I wanted to see the peace and the final outcomes regarding her grandmother.
Letters in Cardboard Boxes is one of those books that will linger in my head for a long time to come. Reading it, at times, was emotional for me and I won't lie, I shed a few tears as my heart ached for my own grandparents. Life is short and sometimes it is extremely difficult. This book reminds you to grab on with both hands and take the time to hold onto those things that really matter. Don't waste another minute, pick up that phone and talk to your parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. Make sure they know how you feel and take the time to truly listen to them. Don't look back and say what if.... I highly encourage you to check out this beautiful and heart breaking book.
"She stood there, staring at the empty mail box as it hung open, empty mail box as it hung open, empty, resembling a mouth its tongue hanging out as it mocked Parker in her quest to actually find mail."
"With a second inhale, she recalled last year's Thanksgiving and the Thanksgiving before that. They all smelled the same to her, the familiar aroma of something safe like s'mores and a crackling fire in the summertime."
"Tanya nodded with wide eyes and Parker pitied her at that moments, knowing all too well that the girl was at an age when ideas felt extreme, like typhoons and hurricanes and volcanic eruptions-each coming and going."
"Parker remembered being herself at a younger age; the younger self who felt distant as a yearbook picture. And yet, despite its distance to her in years, she still remembered the anger she felt towards everything and nothing all at once."
"Give a man some time, Parker, but not a moment longer than you know for sure he's not a good man. You must try your very best not to settle for anything less than a good man. He must be solid and decent and kind."
"Later, as she slowly walked to the subway, Parker stared at the bare branches along Saint Marks Place as they swayed with the wind, reaching for one another, and longed for the warmth of a million little leaves and their multicolored smiles."
"Parker realized that age was rarely a measure for what a person could handle, what constituted a fair load to take on, and age was rarely an accurate predictor of the outcome of any situation."
"Life can get a little depressing without the promise of something better, Tanya. The future is always in front of you."
"Doesn't it just hurt, right in the chest..." He touched his hand to the breast of his baby blue shirt and rested it there. "How quickly time goes?"
"My Grandma was right here the whole time and I never asked. Never listened. And I lost all her secrets."
I won a copy for this book and was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.