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Review: Take What You Need by Idra Novey

Title: Take What You NeedAuthor: Idra Novey
Year published: 2023
Category: Adult fiction
Pages: 256 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5
Location: (my 2024 Google Reading map)USA (West Virginia)

SummarySet in the Allegheny Mountains of Appalachia, Take What You Need traces the parallel lives of Jean and her beloved but estranged stepdaughter, Leah, who’s sought a clean break from her rural childhood. In Leah’s urban life with her young family, she’s revealed little about Jean, how much she misses her stepmother’s hard-won insights and joyful lack of inhibition. But with Jean’s death, Leah must return to sort through what’s been left behind.

What Leah discovers is staggering: Jean has filled her ramshackle house with giant sculptures she’s welded from scraps of the area’s industrial history. There’s also a young man now living in the house who played an unknown role in Jean’s last years and in her art.

With great verve and humor, Idra Novey zeros in on the joys and difficulty of family, the ease with which we let distance mute conflict, and the power we can draw from creative pursuits.

Take What You Need explores the continuing mystery of the people we love most with passionate and resonance, this novel illuminating can be built from what others have discarded—art, unexpected friendship, a new contentment of self. This is Idra Novey at her very best.

Review: This novel was recommended to me by someone who suggested it at our book club, but we didn't choose it. 

While this book is character-driven, I am more of a plot reader. The story is told in alternating chapters from Jean and Leah's perspectives and much that happens or what people think about is based on memory or their own interpretation of events rather than actual conversations between people. Characters made assumptions about what the others thought or believed and it seems that much sadness and grief could have been avoided if they had talked directly to one another (such a good lesson for our own lives!).

In fact, these two main characters haven't spoken for four years and now Jean has passed so Leah has no way to revisit the past, connect with Jean, and get answers to her many questions. How frustrating for her (and the reader). However, the reader has the benefit of hearing both sides and Leah does not. Really, this book is a commentary on relationships, misunderstandings, what we need from other people, etc.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Alphabet (Title)--T
  • Literary Escapes--West Virginia

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