The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood
Review by Lauren
source: copy from BEA16; all opinions are my own
Official Summary: Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage has fallen apart, and her two grown children are pursuing their own lives outside of the country. Ava joins a book group, not only for her love of reading but also out of sheer desperation for companionship. The group’s goal throughout the year is for each member to present the book that matters most to them. Ava rediscovers a mysterious book from her childhood—one that helped her through the traumas of the untimely deaths of her sister and mother. Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who, living in Paris, descends into a destructive relationship with an older man. Ava’s mission to find that book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that unravels the secrets of her past and offers her and Maggie the chance to remake their lives.
Review: This book is a 4.5 for me. There were little aspects that I wasn't a huge fan of and kept this from being five stars, but in general, I loved this one and I would highly recommend it!
For the most part, the story follows the third-person, past tense perspectives of Ava and her twenty-something daughter, Maggie. As the book continues, some other perspectives are added in, but nothing too overwhelming and it's all important to the overall narrative. Instead of typical chapters, the book is broken up by the months and underneath each monthly title is a quote from the book that Ava's book club is reading. I loved this, because I'm a big fan of quotes starting chapters, but also because it fits the novel so well.
As for the actual story, The Book That Matters Most is a book of love, grief, and finding oneself. In the start of the book, Ava's husband has left her for another woman so she joins the library book club that her friend runs. They have a theme every year to help them decide on the books, and this year, they are doing "books that matter most" to its members. That first meeting every person in the group goes through and chooses a book that meant the most to them and they are designated a month in which it will be read. These books include Pride and Prejudice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and more. I like the mix of books they included and I could see a book club taking either these titles to read or their own "books that matter most." It's a lovely theme!
Ava's book choice is From Clare to Here, which she read over and over the year after her sister Lily died and her mom subsequently killed herself, lost in her grief. However, Ava can't find a copy of the book, so a big search for her is trying to track down this novel and its elusive author. Maggie, Ava's daughter, has been in trouble since her teens - going off with boys, getting drunk, doing drugs. Now she's in France, taken up with an older man who feeds her drugs if she does want he wants. She's meant to be in Florence, Italy, studying for school, but she ran off and nobody in her family is aware for awhile.
I liked the overlying mother/daughter theme. You have Ava and Maggie, who have trouble understanding and communicating with each other. Then you have Ava's own mother, who killed herself when one of her daughters dies, instead of staying and helping the one who still lived. This past is still within Ava. She never got answers as to why these things happened and after losing her husband, grief is coming to the surface.
The Books That Matter Most is a love story to novels and reading. It talks about books meaning the most to you in different moments, because it helped you through. Every reader probably has more than one book that matters most, but it's interesting to see if it still matters in that moment, or only the previous one. It's a love story between mothers and daughters. It's a book about making new friends and not hiding from the past. It's about welcoming the future with open arms. It's definitely worth reading.