Book Review: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

June 4, 2012 book review 3

309 pages
Publish Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Crown

Kate has lost her best friend Elizabeth in a plane crash, it’s been almost a year, and it’s the summer after September 11th.  Kate has now inherited the journals that Elizabeth has been keeping since her youth.  She arrives back in Connecticut, her family on their way to their summer rental along the the coast, to the neighborhood they formerly shared with Elizabeth’s family, and many others in her former play group.  Her friends’ husband, Dave, and their three children great them with mixed feelings, but they try to enjoy their time.  Kate leaves with an antique trunk full of Elizabeth’s journals. Elizabeth had made an addendum to her will to leave them to Kate, trusting that she would know what best to do with them. An antique key would open the lock.  Dave has found one last journal at home, and he’s disturbed at the mention of another man, Michael, whom he realizes his wife was traveling to California to be with.  Was her tale of a painting workshop a lie?

Reading the journals becomes an obsession for Kate, she’s lugged the small trunk up to a loft sitting room, quiet and removed from her husband Chris and her children.  Kate realizes early on that she really didn’t know Elizabeth the way she thought she did.  Learning so much about Elizabeth’s youth, her troubled family life, her dreams of art school and much more, Kate begins to question her own choices.  She wonders about her marriage, her abilities as a mother, and the past career as a pastry chef that she has left behind to full time parent.  Kate struggles with the loss of her best friend, she admits that all the fears that now populate the minds of many people post 9/11 are too often on her mind.  Fears of terrorism,  anthrax and even the nation’s food supply fill Kate’s head, and she battles to not let these fears rule her life.

Imagine reading the personal journals of one of your best friends.  A friend you met when  you were both newish moms.  Your lives revolved around being a mom, caring for your family and perhaps a life you left behind. You’re still reeling from her death, and then learning things you never knew.   These are just some of the themes Nichole Bernier so eloquently unearths in this novel.  How much of our histories or deepest thoughts do we share with our best friends or even our partners?  I’ve given thought to my own journals, I kept a “diary” and journal from about age 12 to 18.  There are some fairly descriptive details of my youth, some innocent, some not so much so.  I shared a lot of myself in those pages, I’m now considering my own locked chest…ha ha. 

I related completely to the conflicting emotions of Kate and Elizabeth about leaving full time work outside the home and choosing to be a stay at home mom.  I went back to work after the birth of my twin daughters, there was really no question, I earned more than my husband.  I loved my job in retail management in 1993, but the nights, weekends and demands weren’t easy.  I was always torn because I felt I missed so much of their lives.  Then after Nick was born, and I left retail for banking I was on a better schedule, it helped.  I left outside work in 2000, and I was thrilled to be that stay at home mom.  I did it all, room mom, play groups, volunteering for most anything I could.  Looking back it’s still a complex choice for each and every woman I know.  All ages of our children are precious, but what part of ourselves do we put aside when we leave work?  Who are we? What was the purpose of the hard earned college or advanced degree?  I love how Bernier poses these questions with her characters, and while not giving pat answers, she shares the conundrum many mothers are faced with. 

I loved reading this book, and I wasn’t sure what each chapter was going to bring.  Kate learned so much about her friend Elizabeth, and as often happens, about herself too.  I wasn’t expecting this when I began, at first drawn into the mystery surrounding Elizabeth’s trip to California.  I love a book that causes me to look at my own life, my own choices and yet also allows me to escape into a compelling story.  It’s hard to believe this is Nichole Bernier’s first novel.  She has written for several magazines and was a contributing editor for Traveler magazine for 14 years.  She is the mother of five children and I believe this fact makes me admire her even more!!  You can learn so much more about Nichole on her website.  You can also catch up with her on facebook and twitter @NicholeBernier. I’ll be posting a little Q & A with Nichole next week one day….keeping the chatter going on this fabulous new read.

I’m giving this book a 5 out of 5 stars, it’s a must summer 2012 read, and I’m recommending it to everyone, and handselling it at B&N every chance I get!! Plan to go out and grab it tomorrow, on it’s first day of publication. 

Thank you to Edelweiss and Crown for giving me access to the egalley of this beautiful book.

3 Responses to “Book Review: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier”

  1. Jenny

    I’m reading this right now and I feel like it’s just okay, but I also can’t really relate to it a lot so that probably makes a difference.

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