Historical fiction isn't one of my favorite genres, but I do enjoy it every now and again. While this book sure had its sad moments, it was also a delight to read! I loved so many of the characters and the pacing of the storyline was just right! This book makes me want to venture deeper into the HF genre to find more gems like this one.
Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my rating in any way.
Revenants: The Odyssey Home by Scott Kauffman
Revenants is about a young girl who has recently lost her brother in Vietnam. After falling into a funk and getting into a bit of trouble, she winds up working as a candy-striper in a VA hospital. There, she makes friends with the patients and helps them do anything they need her to; from writing letters home and holding cards for the man without arms, to reading books to the man without eyes, and other such tasks. When she discovers that there is a secret patient held upstairs, she becomes determined to figure out who he is. But with all the secrecy, she begins to wonder- will unraveling the mystery have some unintended negative effects?
So first things first. The cover is so beautiful! The colors are lovely and I really enjoy the design of the girl holding an umbrella with soldiers walking in the distance that appear to be in a fog. It’s like the girl and soldiers are both ghosts, occupying the same space, but walking different paths.
I was warned that some readers find this a story a bit slow to start, but I was very interested right from page one! Yes, the beginning was quite sad, but it definitely set the reader up perfectly for the rest of the story. Once the main character, Betsy, entered the VA hospital for the first time, I was hooked and could not put the book down.
The writing style is so lovely! I found this book very easy to read because everything flows so well. This is a great example of a book that starts right in the middle of the action, but then backtracks to give the reader more information. In this format, I really enjoyed the short flashbacks to learn more about Nathan before he went off to basic training and then afterwards, to war. I also loved that when we learned more about the mystery man, that there were chapter breaks that set his story apart from the rest.
I absolutely adored so many of the characters; especially Betsy, Bartholomew, and the VA hospital patients.
Betsy was so interesting to me! I loved that she got along so well with her brothers. And I will admit, I was very worried about her for a minute there as she began walking on the wrong path. I also felt that her emotions were very powerful. For example, when she missed Nathan, I found myself missing him as well, even before we had gotten the flashbacks to learn more about their relationship.
Betsy’s brother, Bartholomew, was also a lovely character. I really enjoyed his banter with Betsy when he was trying to convince her to either do or not do something. However, I have to admit that I was thrown off when we first "met" Bartholomew on page 27, when someone mentioned that Betsy had a little brother. Up until then, I thought Betsy and Nathan were the only two siblings. Even after that first slight mention, we didn't really meet Bartholomew until page 70. Bartholomew also wasn't mentioned in any of Nathan's letters until one very slight reference in the very last few pages of the book, which confused me. I know the story is focused on Betsy, but I wish Nathan had written more about both siblings.
I adored each of the patients in the hospital that Betsy spoke with. Especially the first man she spoke to who had lost a leg and was looking for a parrot to complete his look. When she was getting to know them, the humor that each man had was so wonderful. All of the pages about them interacting with Betsy made my heart so happy! I do wish we had gotten more scenes with them, because I loved them so much.
But then there was Congressman Hanna, the politician. He was incredibly infuriating! What a nasty man! Every page with him on it made me frown.
Beware, the negatives:Other than the brother not getting much attention from the family, I only have one small complaint- the dialogue format.
Because of the way that the dialogue was set up, I sometimes had trouble following along. This was especially true in scenes where there were more than just two people talking. A couple of times, I had to go back and re-read the conversation because I had gotten confused and needed to remember who was involved in the conversation.
My favorite passages:
"Since you did, there is something I could use help gettin' a hold of."
He nodded at his stump. "Maybe a parrrot to go with what's left of my leg."
The temples behind Betsy's eyes crinkled. "Maybe I can find a bottle of rum for you too?"
"Hey, now you're talking, Sis."
"I miss these old fashioned keys. Gives me the feeling whenever I use one that I'm opening up not just a door, but a part of someone's past. A secret past. You know what I mean?”
Love always comes, Betsy, dies only when you do. That is its blessing. Its blessing as well as its curse.
Sigmund Freud he contended was so big a quack he deserved at least a pond of his very own if not a lake...
Months sifted through the hourglass of his life, and he had no way of counting its grains.
Life happened. Real life. Betsy, not storybook life. Not life where it all makes sense on the final page, but as it's truly lived, where there is no sense but the sense with which we delude ourselves so we can keep going on for one more day.