Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book Review: Root, Petal, Thorn

By Jami Deise

As readers, we look to books for compelling stories. But books aren’t the only medium to offer them. Movies do, obviously. But there are stories everywhere we look. Fenway Park tells stories, as does the Roman Coliseum, the Metropolitan Opera House, the Tower of London. Santa Monica Pier and Coney Island. Even your own house.

It’s this concept that inspired Utah-based author Ella Joy Olsen, who lives in an historic brick bungalow in a Salt Lake City, Utah, neighborhood called Sugar House. Her debut novel, Root, Petal, Thorn, interweaves the lives of five women who all once lived in the same house—at separate times—in that Sugar House neighborhood.

The story kicks off when grieving widow Ivy decides to clean out her attic. She comes across a half-finished embroidery project announcing the wedding of Emmeline and Nathaniel in 1916. Ivy knows the name Emmeline – she’s the one who planted the rose bush in her yard that will not be contained. But with the embroidery incomplete, Ivy wonders if Emmeline and Nathaniel ever did get married.

To keep her grief in check, Ivy decides to research the lives of all the inhabitants of the hundred-year-old house. The novel follows not only Ivy and Emmeline, but also Emmeline’s niece Bitsy, World War II mother Eris, and mentally ill 1960's artist Lainey. Their stories help Ivy realize that all lives have pain, and strong women are able to move forward despite it.

I’m a sucker for stories that interweave time periods, and there’s much to enjoy in Olsen’s novel. However, with so many characters, I had trouble keeping track of who was who. And some stories were more gripping than others. While Emmeline and Bitsy’s narratives had me reading quickly to discover what would happen next, Eris’s sections were a little pat. And although Ivy has a tragic story of her own, she is frankly not as compelling as Emmeline.

Root, Petal, Thorn is a very well-written book, and an admirable debut. However, I think if Olson had concentrated on just Ivy, Emmeline and Bitsy – and given Ivy a more difficult mystery to solve – I would not have been able to put the book down.

Thanks to Kensington for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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