The book Finding Me, by Beth Hoffman (Penguin Books, 2013), is not necessarily something I would have chosen to read. My first impression in glancing at the cover was that it would be yet another cliché “charming” Southern tale. But my husband picked it out for me for Mother’s Day, and he has an unerring instinct for finding books I would probably not consider but end up truly enjoying, so I gave it a chance…and didn’t regret it.
I’m not going to say that this is the best book I’ve ever read. At times it felt like a Barbara Kingsolver “wannabe”, with its “protect God’s creatures and the environment” sub-plot. And I was occasionally annoyed by the attempts at detail that instead devolved into cutesy, for example of what the characters had chosen to wear. Yet it drew me in. The travel book reader in me liked the descriptions of a Kentucky farm, the Kentucky Red River Gorge, and the antique shops and stately old homes of Charleston. And I ended up caring about the characters in a way I didn’t anticipate at the beginning. The protagonist, Teddi Overman, narrates through back and forth flashbacks the story of how she left her farming roots to eventually own an antique shop where she also refinishes furniture. Along the way, we meet and are drawn into her troubled family. Her unhappy mother dies fairly early in the novel, and as Teddi works through that grief we also encounter her deceased World War II hero father, a figure she adored and the catalyst for her courage to leave home. We eventually learn that she is harboring a deeper sadness. Her only younger brother “disappeared” as a teenager. Did he die in the wilderness, or is he still alive, living off the land and serving as a mysterious protector of wildlife from poachers?
Why do I say I found a bit of myself in this book? Unlike Teddi, I’m fortunate to have a strong relationship with my still-living mother, and appreciate that both my parents always encouraged me to follow my passions, even when that took both my sister and I far away and had to have been painful for them. Teddi makes assumptions about people and their actions that later prove to be based on false or incomplete information, and wow, can I ever identify with that! But the character that actually drew me in – and brought tears to my eyes at the end – was the mysteriously disappearing brother. I saw my son, Geoff, in this character and his refusal to live with the injustices of this world. And while my Geoff hasn’t technically “disappeared”, he is in many significant ways just as gone to me, and has chosen to distance himself from our family in his search for a way to be true to himself.
If you are interested in a book that will draw you in gently, envelope you in a different world, and leave you feeling hopeful about people in general and your life in particular, I can recommend Finding Me.