Review: Letters In Cardboard Boxes by Abby Slovin

How do you want to be remembered? How would others see you? How would you see yourself? What if you didn’t remember who you were? That is precisely what happens in Abby Slovin’s novel Letters in Cardboard Boxes.

Parker’s beloved grandma has suddenly become a stranger to her….confused and rapidly declining, Parker must face an alarming reality: her eccentric, loving grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Throughout her life Parker has come to rely on her grandma. While her parents have all but abandoned her, Parker has felt awfully alone with no one to shield her but her grandma.

Parker’s grandma helps her cope with the abandonment of her parents by writing letters…make believe letters from various exotic locations around the world….fantasy worlds far away from the one Parker is living in.

Throughout the story, there aren’t just letter from Dotty (grandma) to Parker and Parker to Dotty–there are also love letters between her grandma an unknown boy  from Dotty’s youth….Parker begins to see an entirely different Dotty than the one she has grown up with.

I loved the way the letters from Parker’s youth connected to her adulthood and the situation at hand. Re-reading the letters from her youth seemed to reassure her that things were going to be ok, life would go on, reminding her that she was strong….a gentle reassurance from her grandma when she needed it most.

Between all the love and fantasy travel letters, there is an added lay of intrigue….the relationship Dotty has with Tanya (a young girl who she was mentoring). Tanya is wise and at times much older than her character seems. She is a troubled teen which Dotty employs Parker to continue mentoring if and when she dies. Dotty is so passionate about this request that Parker cannot refuse her.

As the story unfolds we see Parker trapped in a vicious cycle of guilt, self loathing, and self destruction. She is lonely, lacking confidence and is lost…especially without her rock–her grandma. As the story continues, we see Parker grow into a much different character….finding herself and maturing…learning to deal with life’s lemons and turn them into lemon aide instead. 🙂

At times I found this book difficult to read….but in a good way. One of the things that stood out to me was how well the book/story were written….it brought forth strong, very real raw emotions. Slovin has a unique way of connecting her readers with her characters. This is a very relatable story and a very real story. Many people have that one person they turn to in their family….their own rocks much like Dotty. When that person is no longer there, there is a void left and we often feel empty. The way in which I connected to this book was alarming.

The way Slovin describes the relationship dynamic between Parker and her grandma was very real and touching….it is not often that I read a book with such a raw, realistic connection not only between characters but to the reader as well.

Besides the emotional connection Slovin makes with her readers, I really enjoyed her use of metaphors. Slovin nailed the philosophic metaphors beautifully. I love when writers use philosophical metaphors to explain complex emotions or concepts. At times, I often put off reading books that are what I deem ‘heavy’ lit….books that focus on difficult subjects like cancer, sickness, or death. For me the use of metaphors and philosophy helps make those difficult concepts easier to grasp and face….it softens the blow in a matter of speaking.

For this reason one of my fav characters was Phila, he was a unique character and I loved that he was a mixture of creepy old homeless guy on the corner and wise philosophical scholar. I also loved the rawness of Tanya, she had such a way of seeing through the bull shit and stating what seems like it should be obvious but not in an unkind or insulting way–I suppose that’s the impetuousness of youth .

Both Phila and Tanya had such a unique way of ‘seeing people’ that it was at times unnerving. I work in a high school and I am always astonished at how brutally honest kids can be and how they pick up on things that adults just don’t….the innocents of youth. Tanya made me long for my youth….I longed to have life that uncomplicated and to see things as black and white not gray….that was how I knew Tanya was a well written character….when I started wishing I could be that age again.

A couple of scenes with Tanya really stood out to me, one was when Parker feels the need to explain to Tanya–justify–her parents to Tanya, and Tanya’s response was simply ‘Fuck em’.  Parker feels this unwavering resolve to defend her parents for not being there and abandoning her as a child where as Tanya looks at the situation and quickly demises it with a simple ‘fuck em’ as if that were all the justification one needed.

Parker is jealous….this is something she just can’t do. When Tanya and Parker leave the school to wander the streets of Brooklyn, Parker notes how confident Tanya is….she walks in a determined fashion head up cutting through the people of Brooklyn completely unaware or caring about who is in her way, comparatively Parker is conscious of the people she’s running into……all her ‘missed opportunities’ wishing she could be more like Tanya, fearless instead of wandering through life in a constant state of trepidation. Tanya and Parker are good character studies and the compare/contrast that Solvin incorporates between the two is seamless–well done.

My only criticism for the book was it was a little slow to start. I think the build up for the grandma’s illness needed to be a bit more pronounced. In the beginning the it was not evident that anything was wrong with Dotty but somewhere in the middle all of a sudden she became degenerative with her illness. I thought it would have been more effective to very clearly see her illness and have Parker clearly try and dismiss the whole thing as ‘nothing’ but have the reader know Parker was obviously in a state of ‘plausible deniability’ when she ‘ignored’ all the signs. Having Parker realize the illness so late in the book was a little off for me and thus made the beginning seem a little slow.

When I saw this book listed on Goodreads giveaway, I was hesitant to add it to my reading list simply because I knew it was going to be a ‘heavy’ book. But every time I went on Goodreads giveaways, I kept going back to it over and over again….something about the story just got me. Maybe it was the cover (which I think was tastefully done in an elegant understated fashion, well done!!). In the end though, I think it was the description of the ‘eccentric grandma’ from the summary that broke me down and finally add it to my ‘to reads list’ and enter the giveaway. I was genuinely sad when I didn’t win, but soon I was thrilled when I got an email from Slovin asking if I would like to read/review the book. I was thrilled and could not pass up the opportunity to read the book which kept mysteriously beckoning me to read.

I am also thrilled to announce that the author of this amazing book will be doing a follow up Q & A interview with me and I will do a special feature post of the interview on my blog so watch for it soon!

If you are looking for a heartwarming coming of age story, you have found it here.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Letters in Cardboard Boxes by Abby Slovin

  • Paperback, First, 260 pages
  • Published September 9th 2011

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 (heartwarming and an emotionally intriguing book)

Genre: Novel, literature, contemporary literature

Memorable lines/quotes:

Fact is just fiction with different story tellers

…Maturing out of her old self, her old self simply tired of her and moved on to another unsuspecting teenager, leaving her empty and hallow as the apartment in which she retreated, She still yearned for something significant to fill it all in though rarely gave it enough conscious thought to make any progress.

The search for lost things is hindered by routine habits and that is why it is so difficult to find them.

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