When I’m Gone is not the first novel by Emily Bleeker that I have read. I read her book, Wreckage, not long after it was published in 2015. Bleeker has a knack for writing stories about people laden with secrets and slowly unraveling those hidden things throughout her story. This book holds an ending that I can honestly say I didn’t see coming. I put a lot of pieces together fairly quickly, but the big picture of those pieces as well as the finer details didn’t come together until the very end. Bleeker has an excellent way of keeping people in suspense and keeping you reading until that final “woah” moment.
When I’m Gone tells the story of a widower, Luke Richardson, as he learns to live, work, and raise his three children without his wife of sixteen years. The story opens on the day of her funeral. When he arrives home with his newly motherless children, Luke finds a mysterious blue envelope in the entryway of their home. What makes this envelope even more mysterious is that it’s addressed to him in Natalie’s handwriting and contains a letter to him in her handwriting. Over the next several months, letters from Natalie frequently and mysteriously appear in his mail. She tells him in the letters that she is writing them during her cancer treatments, “just in case.” She leaves behind in these letters instructions, encouragements, memories, and secrets. As Luke receives and reads these letters, he begins to wonder if he truly knew the woman he has known since middle school and was married to for sixteen years.
This is a painful, yet beautiful story about grief, secrets, coming to terms with your past, and learning to move on after losing the one you loved the most. I found myself mourning alongside Luke and feeling the pain and sorrow he felt as he watched his children in their first year without their mom. This story is poignant and beautiful with a satisfying and hopeful ending.
If you are like me and enjoy reading through audiobooks, I would advise that you avoid the audiobook for this one and just read the text. I wish I had done that. The narrator’s voice was entirely too cheerful for the subject matter. I often felt like the narrator was taking a cheerful jaunt through a field of dead and dying roses. A more solemn-voiced narrator was needed for this type of story.
Overall, I give When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker 4/5 stars.
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