A mother and a daughter seek balance in their broken lives while books provide them with comfort, clarity, and clues to a mystery.
When Ava North joins her best friend’s long-running book club in Providence, Rhode Island, it is not to find solace from the long-ago deaths of her little sister and mother. That wound is locked up tight. Instead, it's because her husband of 25 years has left her for another woman, and Ava is bitter and lonely. So much so that she's a refreshingly cranky, reticent participant in the club, whose theme for the year is “The Book That Matters Most” to each member. It's somewhat suspect, but forgivable, that all the members save Ava choose well-regarded classics, but Hood (An Italian Wife, 2014, etc.) handles it with a light touch. Meanwhile, Ava’s problem child, Maggie, continues running with the wrong crowd when she abandons her study-abroad semester in Italy to haunt Paris, where she slips willingly into heroin addiction. There is momentum in the juxtaposition of Ava's and Maggie’s circumstances, one improving incrementally, one devolving steadily, into which the spice of intrigue is added: what were the circumstances of Ava’s sister’s death? What of her mother’s? Why is Maggie the way she is? And what does Ava’s little-known book pick—the book that matters most to her—have to do with all of it? Hood occasionally adds a slurry of unnecessary exposition but is more often able to limn fundamental character truths via well-placed details. She has a knack for dramatic revelation that feels natural, possibly because she is so skilled at knowing what to leave out.
Whether or not they think of themselves as bookish, readers of all stripes will enjoy cycling through these characters’ lives and discovering their shared, mysterious past.