Book review: Finding the hidden in "These Hidden Things" by Heather Gudenkauf
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Title: These Things Hidden
Author: Heather Gudenkauf
What's it about?
One moment in time. One night of your life. That's all it takes to change everything. It's a lesson that Allison, Brynn, Charm, Claire and their families learned the hard way and now they will have to live with the consequences forever.
Now, five years after that life changing night, Allison is released from prison on parole, and sent to live in a half way house to become acclimated to life outside of bars. Now Allison finds her self without support from her family and surrounded by judgement. So, when she lands a job in a bookstore near the half way house she's living, she's excited. She's even more thrilled when the owner of the bookstore (Claire) treats her like a human with value, not just a monster like so many other people. But Allison's history has a way of sneaking up on her in unexpected ways.
Brynn Glenn and her sister Allison were once close, but as they grew up, they grew apart, but when Allison needed Brynn five years ago, Brynn couldn't help but to be there for her. Little did she know that her life would never be the same since. She would never be just Brynn Glenn. She'd never stop running from the past. But no matter how hard she runs, her sister will always be her sister, her parents will always be disappointed in her and she will never forget what happened that night. Now, five years later, she's just trying to survive in life that at least resembles normal, but normal's not as easy as it sounds.
Cham's beating the odds. Her father's never been around and her mother and her don't have much of a relationship, either but that's okay. She's got Glen, her mother's ex-husband who's stepped up into the father role and has never turned back. But now, the only father and decent parent she's ever had is sick. Now she's struggling to juggle caring for the person in the world whom she loves the most and succeeding in nursing school while trying to forget the past and one of the most heart breaking moments of her life. It's not easy, but luck has been on her side for the most part....just as long as luck continues to be on her side, even with the new arrival in the small town of Iowa she lives.
And then there's Claire. She's successful with a loving marriage to a great husband, a child she's prayed for with bookstore that is doing okay for itself. She appreciates what she has and doesn't take it for granted as there was a time when she didn't think she'd ever be able to have the family she dreams of. But, appreciated does not mean absolute perfection, as Claire soon learns when her store is robbed. Now she's trying to adjust to reconsidering how her store is run as well as changes in her personal life. The universe, on the other hand, seems to think her life needs a little more complicating and fulling intends to provide it.
Favorite Part: I'm torn between two parts. The first one is when Claire's store is robbed. It's not that I like the part as much as it brought tears to my eyes. I think it was the first time in the book that tears were summoned. As a mother, it's heart retching with both fear and love. It goes from a dangerous moment to a very heart felt and loving moment smoothly but quickly.
The other part would be in the halfway house when Allison is doing her chores. There's this moment when Allison breaks down and is comforted by Olene (the woman who owns and runs the half way house she lives in). It's one of the first moments we get to see a truly human side of Allison. Not that she's robotic up until that point, but she's very stoic, almost hard as she's had to be in order to survive the past five years. This is the first time she really feels and allows her self to be effected by everything that's happened. And I also love the moment between Olene and Allison at this time, too.
Least Favorite Part: I can't talk about my least favorite part due to spoilers but I will say that as hard as it was to read; as emotional as it was to read, it was absolutely necessary to the store. It's such a crucial part to what happened that night and, as much as I want to blame and name call, ("You monster!" "You horrible person!") I don't feel as if I can because, well, there's so much that fed into the events of that night.
Favorite Character: I have two. The first one is Gus (Charm's step father). I think the thing that initially made him stand out to me is that he didn't have to. He didn't have to step up once Charm's mom (Reanne) divorced him. He didn't have to take on the care of her two kids and treat them as his own. He never had to agree with them coming to live with him, but he did and he loved Charm as if she were his very own daughter through blood. But, as I got to know him better, I fell in love with his strength, the way he never gave up. I loved the way he always put Charm first and never felt sorry for himself even though he was so sick. He was a giant teddy bear mascaraing as a big bad, manly fire fighter.
My other favorite was Olene. I loved the way she tired tragedy into something good but, mostly, I loved the way she was surrounded with people that some may consider the lowest of the low and she never looked at them as if she believed that for a moment. She shows genuine affection and understanding. She truly supports them and tries to help them find their way in the world. I love that she doesn't judge them. I love that she sees these women as people and not monsters or not what they have done.
Least Favorite Character: My least favorite characters are Mrs. Glenn and Reanne. Both parents need parenting classes for similar and different reasons. Neither are supporting of their girls and neither appear to love unconditionally. All three of the girls from both families needed their parents to love them, support them and provide for all of their needs. If they had done so, things may have been very, very different.
However, while Mrs. Glenn is selfish, self centered and way too too occupied with appearances, she at least always made sure the the girls had their physical needs met and seems to have tried to keep her kids safe. Reanne, on the other hand, didn't even do that much. It sounds like she put her kids in dangerous situations and denies the level of danger the kids were in. Further more, she didn't even provide for her kids, she left that to Gus and, while I understand that that was their choice, there's nothing to suggest that she offered any support in any significant way to continue to help raise her kids.
Favorite Quote: This is a snippet of a conversation between Allison and Olene during one of my favorite parts listed above. I loved the love in this interaction, the trust and the attitude that Olene has. I also love the truth in it.
"It's not going to be easy," she says, looking up at me. "It's probably going to get a lot harder before it gets easier. No one can change what you did or what has happened in the past." I lower my head and start to cry again. "But-" She says so sharply that I have to look up at her again. "But you do have control over who you are now and how you carry yourself. Do you understand?" (pg. 91)
I have so many thoughts, I don't think I have the words for them! I say this a lot (and I'm seriously starting to question my ability to anticipate what a book is) but this isn't what I expected. I didn't expect to be whisked away on an emotional journey. I didn't expect to understand the bad choices made. I didn't expect to cry at least three times over the course of 337 pages. Yet, that's exactly what I found.
Now let's back up a little. I started reading this and immediately was iffy. I wasn't loving the writing style and, while I've completed the book, I still don't love the writing style. It's in first person most of the time (I prefer third person) and there are a few times when tenses are switched for a sentence or two. Some of these short chapters are in present tense, some in past. Some chapters are written in first person, some in third. However, the story had a way of pulling me over that, sucking me in and making me forget about the things I disliked about the actual writing.
I loved that each chapter is headed with the person the chapter is following (since it's told from four people's perspectives) and I love that the only way to get all of the pieces to the puzzle and find real understanding is to experience everyone's side of things. I liked that you got to know the characters now and five years ago and I liked the way the story was revealed, especially the twist.
Over all, this was a pretty quick read for me because I didn't want to put it down. While the action is splintered and there for doesn't seem action packed, the emotion is real, the characters feel real. It's the emotion that carries this story. Nay. It's the emotion that makes this story. And, if you're like me, the emotion will stay with you.
What do I rank this?
I give this book a
But, that's just me. What do you think? Have you read this story? Did you find that you could understand the choices made even if you didn't agree with them? Let us know in the comments!