Book Review: Talking to the Dead

Bonnie Grove’s debut novel Talking to the Dead lived up to all I’ve heard about it. From the very first sentence (“Kevin was dead and the people in my house wouldn’t go home”) to the very last (“I’m done talking to the dead. I’m ready to talk to the living God”), this novel held my attention. I finished most of it in one day, and I haven’t done that in a very long time.

Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove

Grove dives straight into her main character’s grief at the loss of her husband. As Kate works through her grief and her memories, we learn more about her and her family—and her relationship with her husband.

Twenty-something Kate Davis has just lost her husband—and parts of her memory. She sits in her living room, hearing Kevin’s voice in her head, as she tries to work through her grief. Her mom drops off books about grief. Her sister comes by to clean out her fridge. Her husband’s best friend takes care of the yard. And Kate hides, wallowing in her grief, not wanting to see any of them, not wanting to “get better.”

Then something Kate does makes Kevin start yelling at her, and pieces of her memory begin coming back. On a day when she’s feeling a bit better and ready to take care of some things Kevin left behind, she discovers a secret he was keeping. Her world falls apart, and she responds with a violence that lands her in a psychiatric ward.

As Kate struggles with who to trust after finding out that those closest to her knew about Kevin’s secret, one man keeps coming into her life. Jack is the pastor of a church that meets in the local community centre and the coach of a bunch of youth who meet once a week to play basketball. His friendship gives Kate something steady to hang onto, some hope for the future.

Kate’s grief and emotions are portrayed with incredible insight. In an AfterWords interview in the back of her book, Grove says, “I haven’t lived through any of the actual circumstances Kate went through. So the short answer is: Kate is not me, and this is not my story.” But other parts of Kate’s story—her grief, anger, and loss—are universal, Grove says. She asks, “Is there such a thing as an emotional autobiography? If so, I guess that’s what I’ve written.”

Grove’s experience as a psychologist clearly comes through the pages in her insight and descriptions of Kate’s mental illness. She also reveals great understanding as a writer. She explains, “In this novel, I used humor to take the pressure off the reader, to help her take a deep breath and relax before plunging further.” Throughout the story, there is a great balance of humour, suspense, and emotion.

Kate’s personality shone throughout the novel, drawing the reader solidly into her viewpoint and experiences. Brief flashbacks fill in the story of her relationship with Kevin before his death. In an interview with Novel Rocket, Grove says of Kate, “My goal for her was to create a character who reflects real women—stronger than she knows, a fighter in her soul, and smart enough to know when it’s time to surrender to the God of love.” Grove paints the other characters lightly, just enough for the reader to get to know them through Kate’s eyes—sometimes funny, sometimes critical, always interesting.

Bonnie Grove is married to a pastor and has two young children; they live in Saskatchewan. She has a background in psychology, counseling, and theology. She has been a featured speaker at various events and conferences, including Write! Canada in Guelph, Ontario and Inscribe Christian Writer’s Fellowship‘s Fall Conference in Edmonton, Alberta.

She is also the author of Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You (nonfiction, Beacon Hill Press, 2009) and Time and Time Again (fiction, David C. Cook, September 2010). Her short story, “Stuckville Cafe,” appeared in the popular Canadian anthology Hot Apple Cider.  I completely agree with Francine River’s endorsement of Bonnie Grove’s first novel: “Beautifully done! I can’t wait to read the next story she writes.”

For suggested songs to listen to while reading Talking to the Dead, book club questions, and more information about Bonnie Grove, visit her website.  You can also check out my interview with Bonnie.

This book was provided for review courtesy of the publisher or publicist. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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