Book Review: The Violets of March
By: Sarah Jio
Published By: Plume
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Buy it at Amazon
Source: Provided by Publisher
"Love is not a hothouse flower, forced to reluctant bud. Love was a weed that flashed unexpectedly into bloom on the roadside." ~ Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes
Sarah Jio's debut novel, The Violets of March, is a truly beautiful novel that brings characters, setting, and plot to life. Her words float across the page like a cool sea breeze creating shivers of delight and intrigue. The story follows Emily as she is reeling from her recent divorce and lingering writer's block; her home in New York isn't a place where she can begin to tackle these issues and move on with her life so she heads for Bainbridge Island, Washington to spend time with her Great Aunt Bee and connect to her past. One's roots have a tendency to help them find their way - even in the bleakest of moments. This notion certainly is true for Emily who not only finds her own strength, but also uncovers family secrets that have been kept hidden since the 1940's.
I don't want to say too much about the exact nature of the secrets because I feel part of the allure of this novel is getting to experience it in an authentic way without any idea of where things will end up. I also would encourage readers to just let the story flow and not stress about trying to connect all the pieces together too early. I attempted to figure everything out and found that I was stressing myself out more than I was enjoying the experience. When I stopped thinking too much and just let the story unfold on its own terms, I loved it so much more. I promise that all things will be revealed in the end.
I was originally drawn to this novel because of the setting. As a fairly recent transplant to Washington state, I love reading novels set in my new home. It is a great way for me to learn more about the land, people, and culture that is so vastly different from the life I knew before in the deep South. This novel has inspired me to take a trip to visit the island. I want to walk the same streets as Emily, Esther, and Elliott. Sarah Jio is a master of sensory details; you see, smell, and hear everything right along with the characters.
One of my favorite aspects in this novel was the flower imagery and symbolism. I know that the wood violets were intentional, but I wonder if some of the other flowers and their meanings were researched and chosen with deliberate care. The wood violets in this novel are rare and Henry mentions, "You can't plant them, for they won't grow. They have to choose you" (pg. 125). Sarah Jio mentioned on another blog that she chose these flowers because they symbolized reconciliation and redemption. This thought is echoed as Bee explains to Emily that "these flowers ... grow where they are needed ... they signal healing, and hope" (pg. 125). I love the idea that these flowers are choosing to grow in order to give the characters healing and hope from the burden of the secrets that have weighed them down for decades. It is also a beautiful foreshadowing technique. Tulips and Daffodils are also mentioned on more than one occasion in the novel. I love that the tulip Elliott sends to Esther is white with red tips which could symbolize forgiveness and love.
Like Puget Sound, this novel is beautiful and hides secrets within it depth, only allowing trinkets to float to the surface when Emily is truly ready to embrace them. This story shows us that love often compels us to act in irrational ways, but it is also a force that can heal all wounds. Readers will be enthralled with this story of romance, history, loss, and hope. This is certainly one of my favorite books of 2011 and one that I can see rereading in the future. I can't wait to see what Sarah Jio will come up with next.
One Last Gripe: I had a hard time coming to terms with some of Esther's decisions. I just felt like she wasted so much time that she could have spent being happy.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: Esther's diary entries
First Sentence: "I guess this is it," Joel sad, leaning into the doorway of our apartment.
Favorite Characters: Emily, Jack, Bee, Evelyn
Least Favorite Character: Grandma Jane
A heartbroken woman stumbled upon a diary and steps into the life of its anonymous author.
In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.
Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily's good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.