31 October 2011

Book Review: Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

Two cars collide on a foggy highway, and a woman dies. The survivor, Isabelle, is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman, April, has left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. As these three lives intersect, questions arise: How well do we really know those we love-and how do we forgive the unforgivable?
I have to admit that while I was originally attracted to this book because of the synopsis and how intriguing it sounded, I have to confess that I did choose to pick it up and read it because of the cover. Allen and Unwin's UK paperback is simply stunning, a gorgeous image with purple foil highlights and I just couldn't believe how lovely it was. I was really pleased about the fact there was something on the cover that said fans of Jodi Picoult would enjoy this book, and since I am a big fan of Picoult, I was therefore sure I would enjoy this one. I didn't expect that when I picked it up I would be consumed by it and desperate to read at every single opportunity I got to read a few pages. This book is wonderful, and here's why you should read it.

This book doesn't have just one main character, it has 3. Firstly, there is Isabelle, the lady who is the awful position of having run over and killed April, a woman who stopped in the middle of an impossibly foggy highway one morning. Second and third, we have Charlie and Sam, respectively April's widower and son, who are struggling to deal with their loss and not dealing with it especially well. The book begins with April deciding to run away, although we aren't told why, and proceeds to the awful car crash. This is well handled by Leavitt, and made for quite odd reading - you know what's coming and don't want to read too much, but at the same time, you simply have to know what's going to happen next. Leavitt really manages to set the scene so well, describing the setting, the mood, the characters so well that you can't help but love every word that's being written.

Firstly, I really felt for the character of Isabelle. She has killed someone accidentally, but of course is haunted by her actions, and repeatedly wonders what she could have done differently to avoid what had happened. You can feel her pain through Leavitt's writing, she really puts poor old Isabelle through the wringer yet it's completely believable. I did find her slight obsession with Charlie and especially Sam a little disconcerting because it seemed a bit odd, and I found it a little awkward at times, but as it progressed, it seemed to somehow make sense and was so well done by Leavitt. I just really liked Isabelle, and how she did eventually begin to realise the importance of life and putting herself first.

Secondly, we have Sam and Charlie. It was horrible to read their pain, especially Sam's, who just wants his mum. Charlie also seems bereft by the loss of his beloved wife, and the pair are clearly completely ruined over her death, and the secrets that are eventually revealed in time too. I really liked that Leavitt made Sam his own character, introducing a quite fascinating hobby for such a young boy, photography, and I think that added a new dimension to him and the story. Charlie was also a really well written character, well developed in terms of being a widower, a father and someone struggling with life as it is at the moment. You feel desperately sorry for him because of his situation, and due to that, we are all sympathetic readers, and care about the characters within.

It isn't an easy book to read by any stretch of the imagination. It deals with hard themes - death and loss, grief and pain, and all of these are of course emotive topics. However, if you go into the book expecting this, then you're just going to enjoy the read and what Leavitt has dished up for you. I found her writing was what really drew me in - she was so descriptive without being heavy, she writes easily across each of the three characters, and allows the story to jump between them with ease as well. I found myself utterly consumed by this read, and really didn't want to put it down. Yes, I shed some tears, yes it wasn't easy to read at times but it was worth it when I reached the end, because I felt like I had been on a journey with this book. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who loves a really good story that is well written and really draws you in - you won't go far wrong with Pictures of You.

Rating: 5/5


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this thoughtful, beautifully written review. I can't tell you how much it means to me!

    Caroline Leavitt

  2. I'm not too keen on cover, but love the sound of the book, sorry caroline!

  3. Pictures of You is an artfully crafted novel that explores the ways people are forever reshaped after tragedy. The characters are richly drawn and their lives are threaded together seamlessly, creating a heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful story.