Every Last One - Anna Quindlen

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I recently heard this audio book and am completely impressed with Anna Quindlen! Of the 28 books I read this year, this was my absolute favorite. (Close runner-up was A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.)

The story is about a family torn apart by tragedy. It seems like the first half of the book was about building the backstory of how the family was happy and unified. But if you read the back of the book you know trouble is coming. There are many, many hints dropped throughout the first portion but they are revealed in such a way that you still don't see it coming. There are a lot of ways the story could go so you might be formulating some possibilities. When the tragedy finally occurred, I was as surprised as the main character.

What was SO incredible about this book though was the authentic portrayal of the main character's grief. I have personally experienced the death of a spouse fifteen years ago and I can assure you the feelings and thoughts are spot on. This author obviously did her research. I did mine too and found out her mother died when she was 17 or 18 - so she's got some first hand knowledge. But in this novel the character did not loose a parent - they lost a spouse and children.

I think with grief there are some general things regardless of what type the loss is. The foggy head. The waking up every day and experiencing the loss again when you realize it was not a dream and they are still dead. The saying "fine" when people ask how you are and wondering how they'd react if you told them the truth.

Then there are things specific to the type of loss. I imagine if you lose a child you might have moments when you are at home alone and you start to prepare their dinner, thinking they are coming home any minute with your spouse - and then they don't. Or you are grocery shopping and start to buy them a treat and realize they are not at home to receive it. With a spouse you might find an anniversary present they had bought for you months ahead of time and tucked away in their dresser drawer. When a family member dies you don't just experience their death once but over and over again in all of the little moments.

Anna Quindlen drew me into the story so deeply that I could visualize the characters so vividly and I didn't realize the twins matched the description of some actual twins at my church. The next Sunday I saw the boys at church and was elated to see that they were so near, and ALIVE! I always feel like when I miss a character after I finish a book that is a good book. But confusing real life and fictional characters - that is awesome writing!

This book should be required reading for anyone who is close to someone who has lost a family member. It is the perfect insight into what the survivor is feeling and experiencing. I think it could also be a great book for someone who has experienced the loss first hand - but not right away. I read the book fifteen years after my loss and it still brought tears to my eyes. At the same time, it was a relief to know that I wasn't the only one who had those thoughts or felt those feelings (even if I was identifying with a fictional character I knew it was based in reality).