3 out of 4 stars
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Life in a Box, by JoDee Neathery, is a family saga covering nearly a hundred years. Readers follow three generations through triumph and tragedy.
The novel begins with Andee Camp, an adult daughter who has been given a box of family tokens and journals after the death of her mother and uncle. As Andee examines the box and learns more about her mother and her family, the reader is made privy to their story through flashbacks. At the outset, the reader meets Andee’s mother, Victoria Jeanne. V.J., as she is called, leaves Andee a letter encouraging her to examine the family’s history and turn it into a novel. With the loving words and encouragement of her mother, Andee accepts the challenge to do just that.
In the first section of Life in a Box, the author also introduces V.J.’s twin brother, Ben. The reader follows the twins in the weeks prior to their deaths, the cause of which becomes a matter of debate. This section of the story is followed by three books of Andee’s novel. The first is the history of her mother’s side of the family. The second is about her father’s side, and the last explains how the families became intertwined. In the end, the reader is brought back to Andee and her modern-day family for the pulling together of the story.
I enjoyed the beginning of the book. I was intrigued by the characters and enjoyed their interactions. Neathery’s beautiful prose creates detailed images like this description of a winter's day on the beach, “Light of day stonewashed into twilight….” I also liked the character-drawing the author did by adding details like health issues, past rifts, and personal entanglements. And, the back-and-forth between twins V.J. and Ben is fast and fun. That made those characters come alive to me.
I didn’t like the other sections, or books, as much. The characters were well-drawn, but I didn’t want to be taken away from the initial story while investigating their parents and grandparents. I understand many of the plot points rely on family history, but I think that by concentrating on so many characters, the author left some dangling threads. I wanted to know more about Andee’s melanoma, V.J. and Will’s separation, and Scott’s family.
I give Life in a Box 3 out of 4 stars. I debated on giving only 2 stars because of the holes in the plot that need to be patched. To me, the beginning is the most impressive part of the book. I read through the middle in order to get to the end, and I found it disappointing. Without giving any spoilers, one mystery turns into two, and then neither of them seem to be solved with any satisfaction. I would almost brand one answer a deus ex machina. However, the plot is stronger than that of a 2-star book, and I would recommend it.
The novel also needs some editing help, as I found many grammatical lapses. Most of these mistakes had to do with the misuse of commas and apostrophes. Editing issues are another reason I could not give the book 4 stars.
Life in a Box has very little profanity, minimal violence, and only implied sexual situations. I admire that the author allowed her story to stand on its own without adding unnecessary particulars.
If you are looking for an adventure story or action-driven novel, I don’t think this one would be for you. However, this book would appeal to people who enjoy character-driven stories and generational histories. I appreciate appendices like glossaries and charts to aid the unraveling of stories, and Neathery includes a family tree that is a great help in keeping siblings straight. If you like interesting, detailed characters, you may want to try Life in a Box. I would certainly read another book by this author because I like her writing style.
Life in a Box
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