True Placesby Published 01 Jan 2019
|Publisher||Lake Union Publishing|
A girl emerges from the woods, starved, ill, and alone…and collapses.
Suzanne Blakemore hurtles along the Blue Ridge Parkway, away from her overscheduled and completely normal life, and encounters the girl. As Suzanne rushes her to the hospital, she never imagines how the encounter will change her—a change she both fears and desperately needs.
Suzanne has the perfect house, a successful husband, and a thriving family. But beneath the veneer of an ideal life, her daughter is rebelling, her son is withdrawing, her husband is oblivious to it all, and Suzanne is increasingly unsure of her place in the world. After her discovery of the ethereal sixteen-year-old who has never experienced civilization, Suzanne is compelled to invite Iris into her family’s life and all its apparent privileges.
But Iris has an independence, a love of solitude, and a discomfort with materialism that contrasts with everything the Blakemores stand for—qualities that awaken in Suzanne first a fascination, then a longing. Now Suzanne can’t help but wonder: Is she destined to save Iris, or is Iris the one who will save her?
True Places Reviews
Driving along a parkway in Virginia, Suzanne Blakemore notices something on the side of the road. As she moves closer, she realizes that it is a young girl who is malnourished and in need of medical care. After admitting her at a nearby hospital, she finds out Iris is an orphan who has been struggling to survive in the woods.
Suzanne is informed that Iris will be placed in foster care if no relative can be located. Without consulting her family, she decides to bring Iris into her household. This has lasting ramifications since nobody else is happy with this decision. Tension starts to build with her husband and two teenage children where the environment had already been spiraling downward. Her husband has a successful career but seems more concerned with work than home. At the same time, her children are growing up and pushing for independence. The arrival of Iris seems like a good catalyst to improve some nagging mistakes from her past.
Sonja Yoerg’s novel provides insight into a woman trying to find her true place in the world. People change over time and it takes courage to start on a new path. True Places was an engaging view of complex family issues.
For starters: that cover! It spoke to me immediately. But what is beneath the beautiful artwork is equally delightful. While I have enjoyed all of Sonja Yoerg’s novels, this one has to be my favorite, with its juxtaposition of nature and affluent suburban living.
If you enjoy book club and upmarket women’s fiction in contemporary settings – and family drama, replete with difficult teens – this book is a must. The prose is assured and lovely, and where Yoerg shines the most, I think, is in her descriptions of the natural world.
The foothills tumbled gently down to the valley floor, an undulating expanse, farmland and wood, hazy through lingering mist, still and mute.
The colors harmonized within her, melting together like a lazy babble of a stream, the flutter of the wind in the trees, and the excited warble of a bunting.
The author’s adoration of the natural world (and subsequent background in biological psychology/animal behavior) as well as her belief in nature’s healing balm spills on to the pages through the characters of Suzanne and especially Iris, an exceptional teenager, whom I loved from the very first pages.
I was impressed by Yoerg’s ability to show us, through Iris’s eyes, how little sense traditional society might make to someone ‘new’ to it. From Iris:
People. People want to know things about you. People want you to follow rules. People put chemicals in the water, and ruin good food and hurt animals and waste things that are precious. People won’t let you live a simple, good life.” She faced him. “I don’t need people, and I don’t want them.”
This book spoke to me loudest in the questions its poses about materialism, overabundance in our society, and the remoteness so many have from the natural world today (as well as the devastating emotional consequences of that removal from outdoor exposure). And, in that sense, I found the character of Iris in this book, and the character of Kya in the recently published Where the Crawdads Sing, to have interesting parallels. While they’re markedly different books, they share thematic similarity regarding commune with nature, and subtle overtones that point out man’s sprawl and historic lack of thought in altering the natural terrain.
This book also includes botanical themes (I loved learning about Hydnora and herbalism), and even the name Iris has its own thematic ties – not only to botany, but also to Greek mythology. While the novel covers topics related to parenting and the busyness of today’s lifestyles, it also begs readers for introspection at their own choices.
A remarkably descriptive novel that will lose you in its emotionally gripping pages.
Suzanne Blakemore is hurrying through her busy day, when she spots a figure lying on the road. She stops and discovers a young malnourished girl in need of medical attention. She transports 16 year old, Iris to the hospital and learns that she has been living on her own in the woods for many years. Her mother had passed away in the woods three years ago and her father had disappeared three years before that. Iris was frightened and overwhelmed being in the hospital and wanted to go back to the woods. Suzanne feels a strong connection to Iris’s feelings, and is compelled to help her adjust to life in the normal world. Although Suzanne’s life with two teenage children at home is anything but normal. But the encounter with Iris has changed Suzanne and made her take another look at her own life.
“No one gives in without giving something up, and nothing is given up without cost.”
The first thing you notice about TRUE PLACES is it’s reverence to nature. Author Sonja Yoerg’s writing is mesmerizingly descriptive. With a PhD in Biological Phychology that’s not surprising. From the first pages you will feel the beauty of the dense and thick woods surrounding Iris’s cabin. And you, like Iris, will yearn to get back there, or perhaps even find your own true place. TRUE PLACES will appeal to women who are juggling with the sometimes overwhelming demands of being both wife, and mother while perhaps losing your sense of self. My favorite part of the book was the expertly drawn character development of Suzanne’s family.
You know you are reading a remarkable book when you are captivated by the book’s language and it’s real life relevance. I found myself highlighting quite a few thought-provoking paragraphs. This is a must read book for 2019!
“That was, in fact, what time was: a narrow container for a relentless succession of task. The container could not be expanded, but the tasks could multiply exponentially. In fact, tasks were guaranteed to multiply.”
“Without the space and the quiet for contemplating, she could not know her own mind, trust her own perceptions, and she was lost.”
“Sometimes it takes a stranger to show you what should be obvious, how far you’ve drifted from who you want to be, from what’s right for you, your true place.”
Publisher Lake Union
Published January 1, 2019
Check out my fascinating Q&A Elevator Ride Interview with Author, Sonja Yoerg. An exclusive “behind the scenes” look behind TRUE PLACES and some fun facts about the author and her latest book. Plus learn what is coming next!
Sonja Yoerg returns following All The Best People (2017) with her best yet! TRUE PLACES is moving, emotionally charged and beautifully written story with lyrical prose and tons of heart and soul—discovering our true place in life.
For every woman who feels overwhelmed, unappreciated, and has lost a little of herself along the way due to marriage, family, motherhood, and career choices. A road to self-discovery. Readers you will adore the unexpected relationship between Suzanne and Iris!
Often it takes a stranger to put us back on the correct path and find our true place.
Set in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains (your stress level drops just looking at the stunning cover). If you have ever been to the Virginia Mountains, it is just as breathtaking.
Readers are introduced to Suzanne and Whit Blackmore, parents of two teens, Brynn and Reid. We also meet Suzanne’s mother Tinsley (self-absorbed and needy). On the outside this looks like a happy family; however, there is much lacking.
Suzanne is a very busy mother and has no time to barely breathe. (we all have been there). She is overwhelmed and needs an escape. One afternoon she takes a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. She will drive. Clear her head. Escape. She thinks of all the deadlines and things she must do; however, for a moment this will be hers. No cell service, no texts, and no little bar. (Seems like heaven, right)?
Soon she spots a young girl all alone along one of the overlooks, near the wooden railroad tracks, running parallel to the road. The girl looks alone and terrified. All she can say is, “mama.” She only has a backpack with some essential items to survive outdoors. Where is her family?
The young girl looks sick and since Suzanne has no cell phone service, she decides to take the girl to the nearest hospital. The girl goes in and out of consciousness. Suzanne is drawn to this young girl. She makes a life-changing decision.
Of course, no one in her family can understand why she becomes involved with this homeless girl. Everyone is questioning her in her own family. A woman already extended. However, this young girl named Iris may just be what Suzanne need to find her true self and at the same time a guardian angel for her.
Suzanne takes Iris into their home (and her heart) when she leaves the hospital. However, how will this family (one that is so different) be able to handle a young girl who lived in the woods, without all the social interaction?
A simple life and one not filled with materialistic things. The dad and the teen daughter are especially materialist. They will have more problems versus Suzanne and Reid, which are more down to earth.
We also flashback to 1995 when Suzanne and Whit met and her own childhood. How do choices she made years ago get her to the place she is now? She put her own life on hold to care for her husband’s career and her own family.
“Giving too little, giving too much. Subtracting from here, adding there. Caring for your marriage, your children, your parents, your reputation, your future, and if you could manage it, your younger, more idealistic self. This complex calculus was based on theories of love and motherhood, and equations of duty and self-worth. . . She wanted a balanced life but had only guesses, wishes, and fears when what she needed was answers.”
There is a mystery surrounding Iris. What happened to her family? Her dad (disappearance), mother (recently deceased), and little brother Ash (appears to be a mystery). A police investigation. A social worker. Suzanne begins to do more digging on her own.
In the meantime, there is a war going on in their household with the tension of Iris joining their household. Iris and Suzanne seem to have developed a strong bond. Suzanne is drawn to her and her simple way of life. However, people do not want you to lead a simple life. They think this way is strange. Iris is drawn back to woods.
Suzanne must continue to defend herself and Iris. Can Iris survive in this new environment? Can Suzanne continue to survive, living as she has been or is there something new on the horizon which will change all their lives? Being true to one’s self.
I loved TRUE PLACES!
Yoerg is in her element from the setting (her own backyard) to the complex family dynamics. Thought-provoking, filled with lush scenery, beautiful botanical imagery, themes, strong metaphors, life lessons, and many takeaways. The relation between nature, animals, and humans. Each can be beautiful and dangerous at the same time.
Character-driven, the author does an outstanding job with the teen language and each character’s distinct voice. Many readers will relate and adore the ending. I enjoyed the relationship with plants, healing, and modern medicine. I survive on an organic plant-based diet and use herbal teas and plants for healing, taking no prescription drugs.
On a side note: There is a project in NC, I consulted with several years ago which strongly reminds me of this story. It offers the setting of a simple life. The property managers told me of the history of the project which is fascinating. Located in the mountains of NC (Flat Rock) —with a combination of vacation rentals, condos, old mill, B&B, and small village little town; old farmhouses, tree swings, porches, lake, mill surrounded by farm animals, and organic gardens, with fresh eggs delivered to your door. It allows your children or grandchildren to get the feel of farm simple living. I was there one week and it snowed. It was like a Hallmark movie scene!
TRUE PLACES is a mix of Delia Owens Where the Crawdads Sing, Kristin Hannah The Great Alone, works of Jodi Picoult, and Rochelle B. Weinstein’s Somebody’s Daughter combined with Sonja Yoerg’ s own winning signature style.
With the author’s own background to draw from plus her love of nature and gardening, her passion is reflected throughout each page. You will find yourself bookmarking many pages and beautiful phrases.
TRUE PLACES reminds me of a time I was visiting in NC, dealing with my elderly parents— I took off one afternoon and drove to Virginia and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even though I did not meet a young lady, it clears your mind and fills you with peace, and a renewed spirit. I also have fond memories as a child and roadside picnics along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Top Books of 2019 List
Jan 2019 Must-Read Books
A special thank you to the author, Lake Union, and #NetGalley for an advanced reading copy. (The hardcover is stunning and a "must" for your home library collection)
Read My Reviews (each has been 5 Stars).
TRUE PLACES (2019)
ALL THE BEST PEOPLE (2017)
THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE (9/2015)
HOUSE BROKEN (1/2015)
Thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Since I finished reading True Places on Thursday, I have been thinking very intently about my feelings and thoughts. I have come to the realization that I didn't hate the book, but I didn't fall in love with it either. At first glance, True Places sounds like it will focus on Iris, the young teenage girl that Suzanne finds malnourished and a bit wild. Sure Iris's story is there, but it is more centered on Suzanne who seems to have lost her way in the rush of trying to maintain a perfect life. Frankly, this did not bother me because Suzanne is a relateable character. Her husband is oblivious to any family problems, her teenage daughter is distant, a son that has trouble connecting with his father and pressures from her parents wanting to control their grown daughter.
Sometimes it takes a stranger to show you what should be obvious, how far you've drifted from who you want to be, from what's right for you, your true place.
Sonja Yoerg creates really fascinating characters, but I have to say that Suzanne's daughter, Brynn, and her parents were just awful. They were on my character hate list( Yes, it exists but I have a love list too. It's all about balance). Conflict is an integral part of the stories we tell, but maybe there was too much negative energy weaving in with the central message of the novel to make me ever feel captivated by the narrative.