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Book Review: What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hayes

Grover has been dealing with the recent death of his mother in the only way he can, by retreating from the world into the bamboo forest located in the vacant lot next to his home. There, he creates beautiful weavings using brightly colored fallen leaves and the bamboo amongst which he has built himself a workshop. He leaves these tapestries as tributes beside his mother’s grave.


Meanwhile the world has gone on around him. His father, who runs the Thomas Wolfe Memorial historic site in Asheville, North Carolina, spends more and more time at work. His livelihood is threatened by budget cuts and he himself is seeking solace from the loss of his wife.

His little sister Sudie, grieving in her own way, seeks to become the perfect child. She keeps her room as neat as a pin now, just like her mother always wanted. She excels at school and does her best to draw both her father and Grover out of themselves.

This is a beautiful story of a family learning to deal with grief and accept the help of those around them. Their friends and neighbors, the new family who has moved in across the street, are all rich characters who add great layers of depth to the story.


Unfortunately, there is one character that can be unnecessarily intrusive and does much to distract from the flow of the narrative –  the city of Asheville. The book is one part lovely, well realized middle grade novel and one part tedious tour guide to downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Please do not mistake me. I love downtown Asheville. I have friends who have lived there for the past 15 years whom I visit 2 or 3 times a year, sometimes for a week at a time. Asheville is fully deserving of being it’s own character in any novel set there. (Any of you who have experienced it know of which I speak. Those of you who haven’t cannot even imagine. It is gloriously odd and wonderful.) This novel, however, does itself a disservice by its lengthily detailed explanation of the city, descriptions that go on for pages and include minute historical detail that might derail the interest of the most dedicated Middle Grades reader.

What worked for me in this book:

The characterization, even of the most peripheral characters, is well done. Spare without being lacking in any way, the author does an amazing job of showing rather than telling, both through the characters’ actions and interactions.

The story is beautifully told. It is not common to find such a vibrant story dealing with the grief of an entire family in the wake of the death of a parent. This alone makes it a strong candidate for purchase. As librarians, many of us have experience in helping young people deal with the death of a loved one.

What didn’t work for me in this book:

I’ve already covered it. Unfortunately, for some readers, it takes up a rather large percentage of the text.

What I Came to Tell You will be available in September from Egmont. ISBN 978-1-60684-433-5.