"I'll Always Be With You"
I heard somewhere that you can tell whether a book is good or not from the first sentence, and the first sentence in "I'll Always Be with You" by Violetta Armour absolutely blew me away. I knew immediately I was its hostage, and in fact, I never put the book down until I finished the very last sentence. Sixteen-year-old Teddy has to live with the memory and guilt of the death of his father, Stan, as the result of a fatal auto accident. The entire family is struggling with the loss, but Mary is especially concerned for her son Teddy, who feels he is at fault. Mary intends to put as much distance between her family and the fatal intersection that will always be a painful reminder of what happened by moving to Stan's small hometown in Indiana, to be with his mother, Baba, and the rest of the family. Living in the childhood home of their father, surrounded with love from Baba and his Uncle Dan, Teddy begins the slow process of healing. One day in Baba's attic Teddy finds an old book his great-grandfather carried with him to America. Baba tells him it is a book that Bulgarian fathers have always read to their sons, and Teddy finds inspiration in reading the book, it almost seems like his father is talking to him through the pages.
While Teddy is on his journey of healing and rediscovery, Mary is also finding her way, and gets a job in the local bookstore. There she meets several people who knew Stan, including Rosetta, who Mary discovers was secretly Stan's high School sweetheart. Mary learns of the forbidden love Stan and Rosetta shared during the Civil Rights Movement, and how they dared to reach out for love across racial lines. Now, as the events of the past unfold and lives intertwine, difficult choices must be made. Can Mary and Rosetta rise above the events leading up to these moments and choose happiness for their families, or will they dwell in the past?
The story is told in the alternating voices of Teddy, Mary and Rosetta, with the background story of Stan and Rosetta in the middle. Told in this manner, the story becomes even profound as the reader is invited directly into the minds and hearts of each character, almost like reading three separate stories, which indeed, is the case. It is a well-written, well told heartfelt saga, with references to some of the most important events in American history that shaped the world as we know it today. The author has a wonderful storytelling gift and I eagerly connected with each of the characters, celebrating their highs moments and being empathetic to their struggles as they dealt with and pushed through their grief. "I'll Always Be with You" is an inspiring tale of love, loss and renewal and reads much like a story from a seasoned author, which is why I highly recommend this story from debut author, Violetta Armour. If this is the kind of work she puts out on her first go-round, I can't wait to see what she has in store next!
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (02/15)
The threads of a dead man’s life and history converge in Armour’s dramatic debut novel about heritage, family, and forgiveness.
When Stanley Kostoff dies, it seems like everything—his life, his love, his family’s happiness—comes crashing to a close. But when his widow and children move from Phoenix back to his hometown in Middleburg, Indiana, a new beginning might be on the horizon. For Mary, his widow, it means a new job and a new life away from friends and memories. For Rosetta, his high school sweetheart, it means the story of long-dead teenage romance may not yet have found closure. And for his grief-stricken son, Teddy, it means a chance to start again, however reluctantly, away from the guilt over his father’s death but also away from his friends, girlfriend, and a spot on the varsity basketball team. As the family settles in with Stan’s mother, Baba, they find that their new beginning comes saddled with the relics of Stan’s past. In the attic, Teddy finds an old book of wisdom that offers insight into his father’s Bulgarian heritage as it helps him overcome his guilt, master his sorrows, and see beyond the petty frustrations of varsity basketball and moving to a new school. New friendships abound—from a quirky, know-it-all locker mate, Mindy, and a teenage burn victim, Joe, to the sometimes-fraught interactions between Mary and Rosetta. Readers will admire Teddy’s large, if tragically incomplete, circle of friends and family. The plot is peppered with enough dramatic turns and strange coincidences to fill a soap opera season, and while the tropes—forbidden love, unplanned pregnancy, and drunk driving deaths among them—can occasionally feel tired, Armour generates enough interest in her characters to retain reader interest. If the plot occasionally succumbs to melodrama, the same cannot be said for the portrayal of the family’s loss, which remains both sensitive and realistic as it chronicles the difficult, sometimes-ugly stages of grief.
A two-tissue tale about life after loss.
The untimely death of a father leads to major life changes and startling discoveries for the man's teenage son and his wife in this emotionally rich, introspective novel about grief and recovery set just before the turn of the 21st century.
The book opens with a bang, beginning with this startling statement: "I never meant to kill my dad." Building steadily from there, the story unfolds initially from the point of view of young, remorseful Teddy. He was eagerly learning to drive in Phoenix with his dad, Stan, when the car was broadsided by a drunk driver. Teddy's grieving mother, Mary, is also deeply impacted and decides the best thing for the family would be to move to Stan's small hometown of Middleburg, Indiana, and live with his Bulgarian mother.
Teddy struggles to fit in at school, but finds comfort from a book his great-grandfather brought to America from the old country. He also receives unexpected guidance from an impish and brainy girl; a severely burned teen with wise insights, and a perceptive graveyard caretaker. Meanwhile, Mary seeks support from Stan’s high school sweetheart, an understanding black woman named Rosetta, and is shocked to find Rosetta had much more than a casual relationship with Stan.
Violetta Armour has written a gem of a story that has heart, soul and empathetic insights and is potent in its small moments. The well-drawn characters are true-to-life in representing the pain and confusion felt when tragedy strikes. Historical details from warring Bulgaria that caused many to flee, as well as racial tensions during the late 1960s, are cleanly woven into the narrative, giving the story purposeful dimension. A final nice touch is the addition of old-country recipes from the author's own "Baba."
All in all, this beautifully crafted, touching book offers tender wisdom that will draw a wide audience and could be especially appealing to young adults grappling with insecurities and difficult times.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.
Armour presents a powerful look at how grief and hope play an important part in the healing process.
In I’ll Always Be with You, Violetta Armour crafts a simple but engaging tale of life after loss. In the wake of a man’s sudden death, his son, wife, mother, and old flame unite not only in grief, but in hope and pride at having had his influence in their lives. This emotionally charged story draws in multiple generations and touches on important social issues.
Stan is giving his son, Teddy, a driving lesson when a drunk driver crashes into them. Stan is killed instantly, leaving Teddy racked with grief and sorrow, but also a deep well of survivor’s guilt. Hoping to alleviate some of the guilt, Teddy’s mom pulls up stakes to take the family home. In this case, home is Stan’s childhood home and the arms of his tenderhearted mother, Baba. There the family confronts Stan’s past, his effect on those around him, his relationships in high school, and a glimmer of hope for a future without him.
The author presents a look at how grief and hope play an important part in the healing process. Through three main characters, the story rotates points of view to examine the loss of a loved one. It never devolves into pointless melancholy, but simmers like a pot of family recipe chicken soup, goes down wonderfully, and warms from within. The main character is decidedly Teddy. He has to cope with losing his father during an already hectic time, the teenage years. Coupled with the recent move, it seems like he may never pull himself out of the well of sorrow and guilt. Until, that is, he connects with his sweet and doting grandmother and discovers his father’s legacy. A family book full of wisdom brought from Bulgaria and read by fathers to their sons provides a life boat. The author keeps Teddy grounded in realism and steers clear of the cliché reactions to loss, allowing for a heartfelt journey.
The story’s plot is simply the family responding to their loss. However, the side story of Stan’s high school relationship with the vivacious Rosetta is powerful. They fall in love at a time of great upheaval, the 1960s. Their interracial love unfortunately breaks in the face of hate and fear. Rosetta never truly recovers from that time, despite marrying and having a family. After hearing of Stan’s death, she begins to bond with Stan’s newly relocated family. Rosetta’s attempts to learn more about Stan while not intruding on their loss adds a layer of emotion to an already powerful story. Teddy’s journey, Rosetta’s yearning, and Stan’s past weave deftly in a way that keeps the story from drowning in sorrow.
I’ll Always Be with You is simply written, but that’s perfect for this story. While it could benefit from some polishing, the prose is swift and sweeps along, keeping attention on what is truly important. Following these characters as they cope, discover truths, and embrace a new future feels like a warm embrace. These characters realistically find solace in loved ones, family traditions, and beloved food dishes. While the topic is inherently sad, the author shows that life goes on and the bad times shape the future in a heartwarming tale full of love, life, and laughter.
John M. Murray