The Understory by Elizabeth Leiknes
Publication date: 01 June 2012 by Bancroft Press
Category: Adult Contemporary Romance/Literary Fiction
Keywords: Romance, contemporary, crossover
Format: Hardcover, eBook
Source: e-ARC received from Netgalley
Story Easton knows the first line of every book, but never the last.
She never cries, but she fakes it beautifully.
And at night, she escapes from the failure of her own life by breaking into the homes of others, and feeling, for a short while, like a different, better person.
But one night, as an uninvited guest in someone's empty room, she discovers a story sadder than her own: a boy named Cooper Payne, whose dream of visiting the Amazon rainforest and discovering the moonflower from his favorite book, Once Upon a Moonflower, died alongside his father.
For reasons even she doesn't entirely understand, Story decides that she will help Cooper and his mother. She will make his dream come true.
You will find almost no buzz about this book at all in the mainstream blogging scene. Bancroft is a small independent press, and unfortunately for them and for the author, much of the current book-selling world relies upon appearances--great bookcovers, snazzy websites, spot-on social marketing... Readers have to be able to find you, and then you have to make them want to stay and pay attention to what you want them to learn. The weird graphics you'll find on the publisher's official site (a design throwback to 1998) definitely does not put the best foot forward for this book. The book's cover doesn't make for a great second step, either.
However, those are the only bad things I can say about this book. Really. That's it. Because once I started reading, The Understory's excellently composed prose kept me enthralled until dawn (when I finally fell asleep, exhausted). Readers like me who have trouble nodding off, who worry and fret about our failures into the wee hours of the night, and who constantly land themselves in odd predicaments will feel right at home with Story Easton. Plucky, likable, and somewhat goofy, it is she who binds the rest of the characters together: young Cooper, whose widowed mother is still trapped in the grief of losing her husband; Martin, the author of Cooper's favorite book, debilitated by loss and depression; and Hans, an incorrigible fixer of broken things (and part-time magician, which I guess is kind of the same thing).
The plot enveloped me so completely that I did not put the book down, go to the restroom, or even raid the fridge at 2 am (as I often do); indeed, I may have stopped breathing at some point. The Understory transcends its unimpressive bindings with humor, cleverness, and the uncanny ability to arouse such a tide of emotion, that the reader will overflow with tears and surface with a reawakened sense of hope in humanity. At least, that's the effect it had on me (and sadly, only until the next thing comes along and kills my faith in it again).
Leiknes's deft hand weaves factual information about the rainforest and nature into a stunning tapestry of a story, so intriguing and beautiful as to allow the reader to shrug off his worldly cares and really lose himself in the book. The relationships and entanglements among the characters do not so much form a predictable pattern: instead they reveal a web of interconnectedness among humans and within nature. To break out into a chorus of "The Circle of Life" while reading this book would be to belittle the care and planning the author took in imparting these lessons: be kind, be brave, love and be loved. Leiknes's style is so conversational--not at all preachy or heavy-handed--that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, and highly recommend it to anyone who needs an uplifting, restorative, and thoughtful read.
I looked past an ugly cover and found a rewarding book inside these pages. I hope you will, too.
*note, while I most of the story is appropriate for all ages, there are a couple of passages that require a more mature reader (though to be honest, as a Harlequin reader from age 10, I would have been ok with those scenes--but that's just me). Parents might want to skip over those bits when reading this to a younger audience.
*I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.
Follow the author online on Twitter @eleiknes