Summary: 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 the evidence of 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.
Review: I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.
I saw this book listed on the goodreads first reads program and signed up to win. I remember being disappointed when I lost. The synopsis hooked me. When I was contacted by the author later, I was so ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get started. My grandmother and I are close and have always been close, which is why I wanted to read this book so badly.
The story begins with Parker. She is a woman with no direction, raised by her grandmother (for the most part) because her parents travel often. I immediately thought of Leonard from The Big Bang Theory for some reason, because his parents were both professional psychologists and weren’t really there for him emotionally and I sensed that was exactly what was happening with Parker.
I loved and hated Parker. She was one of those characters that reflect all of our insecurities. She has no self esteem, lacks confidence, is socially awkward, and as a side effect, forms pointless relationships with people that have no depth. She needed to grow. When her grandmother becomes ill, she is forced to connect with other people and grow up.
During Parker’s childhood, her grandmother and she would exchange letters pretending they were on some grand adventure, though neither of them left New York.
I’m going to refrain from telling any more of the story because it’s just one of those things I think you have to read and experience for yourself. It’s full of growth, emotion, love, loss, regret, etc. While this novel definitely made me email my own grandmother, it isn’t one of those novels that try too hard to make you cry or rethink your life, which I found extremely refreshing. Instead of forcing you to feel a certain way, the story flows naturally and leads you on your own journey.
I felt like I could relate a lot to Parker, though half the time I just wanted to scream at her. She was frightened of herself and never let herself simply be comfortable in her own shoes. I used to be like that and I just wanted to either yell at her or invite her over for a cup of a coffee and dose of advice. I love characters like that because they feel real to me and become multidimensional instead of flat and predictable.
The story was broken up into parts, which symbolized the growth of Parker in coming to terms with what happened and the stages of grief. I liked how it was broken up and I thought it was clever and organized. The writing was excellent and I felt like I really got to know the characters. I can’t stress enough how much it irks me to read a book that lacks character building, so I thoroughly enjoyed this story because of how the characters were presented and built upon.
Letters represented a lot in this book. As I said earlier, Parker and her grandmother exchanged letters that helped Parker cope with her teenage years. Her grandmother also sent letters to a teenager she mentored. Letters were also in box that Parker found between her grandmother and an unknown love interest. I felt like letters were windows into the soul, not just Parker’s, but the people she connected with and her grandmother as well.
I recently found a journal at the bookstore entitled The Book of Myself. In it were questions that began with childhood and kept going throughout life stages. It was invented by a grandfather and grandson. When I saw this, I purchased one for my grandmother and one for my husband’s grandmother. While I am much closer to my grandmother than my husband is with his, I felt like there is still so much we don’t know about life back then. Both of our grandmothers are single now, so I wonder about falling in love and what not along the way. In a sense, having our grandmothers fill these books out is like finding a box of letters they may have saved. You found out so much about a person through letters and journals and I couldn’t help but think about this when I was reading this book.
As a young adult, I sometimes have to force myself to stop and slow down and reconnect with people that are close to me. I guess at this age, most of us think there is still so much time ahead. But what if something happens to our older family members and we start to formulate questions that we can’t get answers to anymore?
This book definitely made me think about this more and like I mentioned, email my grandmother to let her know that I am thinking about her. You never know what may happen.
And it’s not death that I’m necessarily referring to.
For example, one of my family members had a stroke about a year ago. She’s pretty young and she recovered for the most part, but she’s left with aphasia. She can understand you, but she cannot speak very well. She is getting better at writing and it’s usually easy to understand her through questions and charade type activities, but every once in a while I think about how much I miss being able to sit down and talk to her the way we used to. Now she can’t tell me things I don’t already have some idea about, since a major part of understanding her is a guessing game. I am so thankful that she’s here and she’s okay, it’s just that I miss some things sometimes. So, as I said, you never know what may happen to the people you love and it’s probably best to start expanding your relationships with them. And it’s probably best to start expanding your relationship with yourself, because you can’t build meaningful relationships without that.
Anyway, I can’t stress enough that this book is wonderful and thought provoking, but it’s not one of those inspirational forced messages that you get from some books. It’s natural, flowing, beautifully written, and interesting.
Please keep your eye out for the next post… an interview with author Abby Slovin and an e-book giveaway of this book.