So, let me first say that I’m not really a fan of historical fiction. I’m more a horror-thriller kind of guy. That said, I had the pleasure of reading Unexpected Gifts and now have a new appreciation for this genre. The author has placed her protagonist Sonia in a contemporary setting, with all of the problems and pain of a nervous young woman trying to take control of her life. And things haven’t been going all that well. Doesn’t sound like the past, right? Well, here comes the “historical” part. Sonia is introduced to past generations of family and friends courtesy of letters that her mother shares with her over a series of days. These aren’t normal letters, mind you. They literally transport Sonia back to a time and place when these people were struggling with their own issues—many of which are tied to famous events. I thought this was a clever device that worked extremely well.
Unexpected Gifts is a book of longing, hope and wonder. Does Sonia ever reach that place of joy and contentment? You’ll have to read those letters to find out.
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Can we learn from our ancestral past? Do our relatives’ behaviors help mold our own? In Unexpected Gifts that is precisely what happens to Sonia, a confused college student, heading for addictions and forever choosing the wrong man. Searching for answers, she begins to read her family’s diaries and journals from America’s past: the Vietnam War, Woodstock, and Timothy Leary era; Tupperware parties, McCarthyism, and Black Power; the Great Depression, dance marathons, and Eleanor Roosevelt; the immigrant experience and the Suffragists. Back and forth the book journeys, linking yesteryear with modern life until finally, by understanding her ancestors’ hardships and faults, she gains enough clarity to make some right choices.
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