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  • shawnnocher

Valentine | Elizabeth Wetmore

I have a list of favorite books. I’ve been building it all my life. It started when I was twelve and read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. That was the first time I can recall feeling like the writer was speaking only to me. It wasn’t my story, nothing at all like my life, and yet I felt like I merged with the story. Over the years there have been dozens more I’ve added to my list and today I want to share my most recent find—a book that I will always ALWAYS recommend, no matter what you say your favorite genre is.

To be fair, I was a teen in the late 70s and so this book may have rung especially true and honest to me, but even if you were born yesterday, you should know that this book is authentic in the way it represents the larger mindset of the 70s. Yes, Virginia, people really did think it was a woman’s fault if she was raped, even if she was a child. And yes, Virginia, even women thought this.

I loved this book so much—was so grateful for it—that I did something I’ve never done before. I wrote a letter to the author, Elizabeth Wetmore. To follow is an excerpt from that letter.

Thank you so much for writing Valentine, for sweeping me into a place I knew nothing about and immersing me in characters that will stay with me for a long time. Such a wonderful book--engrossing, rich and oddly empowering. You so deftly handled various POV and each character rose up off the pages as a fully formed and independent character with their own distinct voice. I tend to read as a writer (sometimes diluting the experience) but I found myself so immersed in each character and voice that I was reading again as a reader and loving every minute of it. In fact, after reading the first chapter I tweeted (and I seldom tweet), that the award for best first chapter was certainly yours. And in the end, by the time I turned the last page, I can only say that there was a kind of relief in that the story of Glory and the women orbiting her trauma had been told. All along, I had felt a keen sense of urgency, a strange need to have this story be told, as if the story had always existed without the words to contain it and--in the end--I could breathe a sigh of relief in that it had found the voices that needed to tell it.

Some people think that a book should come with a trigger warning. I’m not sure how I feel about that. A trigger warning might have stopped me from reading so many wonderful novels over the years. Afterall, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is also about rape and its aftermath, among other things. I can’t help but wonder if I would have missed the most important read of my youth had I known what the book was about. I hope you will take a chance on this important novel, but here’s your trigger warning: The book opens in the aftermath of the rape of a teen girl. Power through. It’s the town’s reaction to the rape and the women who find themselves asking questions of themselves and the men who quietly oppress them that is important. There’s humor, female bonding, and a kind of triumph in the end that felt satisfying.

This is Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel. I can’t wait to see what she will do next.

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