Elizabeth's Reviews > The Boots My Mother Gave Me

The Boots My Mother Gave Me by Brooklyn James
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it was amazing
bookshelves: awesome-heroines, characters-i-love, favorites, gooey-boys, books-i-own, favorite-authors

Rating: 4.5

I've been thinking a lot about how to review this novel, it's unique and sort of in a league of its own. I'll admit, I was reluctant to pick it up even though I've had it for in my queue for months, for some reason I kept shuffling it to the bottom of the pile. But lately I've been getting suckered into the more "popular" reads and have found the majority to be very disappointing. So on a whim I bumped this to the top. I'm super, super happy I did. I think my reluctance came from the lack of buzz, I know, shame on me. Truly, I am very sorry and have scolded myself ad nauseum.

I'm a bit uncertain how to catagorize this novel, it's a smidge Y/A (coming of age), a dash of contemporary, a pinch of New Adult. As the bulk of the story spans about ten years (longer if you include some of the flashbacks scenes), it's hard to pin down where it falls with respect to genre.

This is not a fluffy story. Yes, there are some fantastic moments, but there are many dark aspects to this novel which cast a shadow on its characters throughout the story. The heroine, Harley, our narrator, has had a tumultuous childhood, raised by an abusive, alcoholic father and a doormat of a mother. What fascinated me most, however, are the moments of joy and love which are experienced in between the fits of rage directed at the women of the household. It's an interesting juxtaposition as oftentimes we only get to see the abuse in novels such as these. In fact, the author did such an amazing job in creating her charaters I found it truly difficult to hate any of them, even when there were a plethora of reasons to do just that.

I should take a moment to note that I loathe and find offensive all types of abuse. It's critical, I think, to point that out as I'd like for my opinions not to be taken out of context. While Harley's father's actions are despicable and vile, through Harley's eyes we see a man struggling with a wealth of pain. Does he do the things he does because he's evil? No, I never got that sense. While there's no excuse for abusing your family, people often fall victim to their circumstances and this is precisely what's happened to this man. Raised in a home with a hateful mother, he became that which he feared most, as is often the case. Coupled with what is clearly a case of PTSD from serving in the Vietnam war, Harley's father is a ticking time bomb. But he's also a man with no sense of self-worth who comes from an era in which people kept their problems to themselves and psychoanalysis was akin to voodoo. Men especially fell victim to the stigmas of seeking help for things like addiction, PTSD and childhood traumas. They were viewed as less than, not real men, impotent and weak. This was a generation of "hysterical woman" and men who were simply viewed as "difficult".

Interspersed with flashbacks of her family we're offered peeks into Harley's more normal relationships, like that of her long-time friendship with Jeremiah Johnson, the boy next door. We watch as this relationship slowly evolves over time, from two little kids playing ball and fishing to teenagers figuring out who they are and how they fit. The adoration they feel for one another is palpable though their romantic love takes quite a while to be recognized. Even still, Harley does all she can to avoid any sort of committment to Jeremiah. It's not angsty or dramatic, there are no huge over the top fights between the two, it's simply two souls destined to be together who simply can't seem to connect. Jeremiah's understanding and patience is quite lovely to behold. He's borne witness to Harley's childhood traumas, understands her fears and lets her go time and time again, knowing that she'll return to him, like she always does. While it's uplifting to watch this kind of love endure a myriad of tests and distance and time, it's also sad to bear witness to Harley's inability to accept Jeremiah's love and equally frustrating to see her continually abate the love that is offered.

It takes the length of this book for these two to get it figured out, during which Harley zigzags across the U.S. in search of herself, dabbling in educational adventures and liasons with other men. Her perpetual need to be something more than she is, in essence, an survival mechanism. Her constant need to move, a way to escape the ever-brewing emotional turmoil that lies just beneath the surface. It takes the entirety of this novel for her to make peace with her father, herself and the mother who failed her, and, eventually, her love of Jeremiah.

This book is a true character study, primarily focusing on Harley's relationships with her sister, Kat, her mother and her father. There are complex family dynamics at work here, there is a wealth of history to work through and a maze of confusing emotions. At times it's so heavy it feels suffocating, other times there's such hope and bouyancy that it becomes difficult to navigate the haze of underlying emotions because you want so much for Harley to move beyond them. But, as in real life, true healing takes time, longer for some than others. This is that journey. It is steeped in complexity and rich in self-discovery. And while it is an engaging, thought-provoking and immersive experience, one that is impossible to put down, it is also difficult to endure at times.

Harley is wonderfully portrayed. She is elusive, as characters go, and sometimes difficult to pin down. Her thought process is often so logical its devoid of any true emotion, her pain so deep it's often difficult to excavate. It's really only when she returns home that the wounds are opened and she allows us to see the underpinnings that make up who she is fundamentally. These are compelling elements, offering Harley opportunities to ferret out the truth about her life and who she's expected to become, both by herself and her mother. With each journey home, Harley is offered new experiences, new chances to redefine herself and new challenges designed to help her peel back the layers of dysfunction.

I think I could go on and on with this one, the more I type the more things come to mind and I could probably write for the balance of the evening. So I'll end with this: in recent times I can only think of two other novels which have taken character exploration to this level; A Different Blue and The Sea of Tranquility. They all host beautifully drawn women, women whose lives are rich with strife and complexity and perseverance. They also play host to amazing male leads and Jeremiah Johnson has now joined the elite ranks of "Super Swoony Gooey Boy" with Josh Bennett and Darcy Wilson from the above noted books. I loved these boys, loved them each for a different reason, for each brought balance to the female leads, each offered something unique which left its mark in the most special way.

These books are all very different, both in their themes and characters, but they all have something in common. There is a quietness about the storytelling that sucks you in, and they're all very cinematic in a sense. It's almost like watching the story unfold as opposed to reading it. Good authors can do that. They can pick you up and place you in their story without making you aware they've done it. This is one of those stories. It's impossible to walk away from and impossible to forget.
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Reading Progress

February 11, 2013 – Shelved
June 5, 2013 – Started Reading
June 5, 2013 –
page 8
2.86% "The writing so far is really solid."
June 5, 2013 –
page 23
8.21% "This is truly a beautifully written book. Where have you been, damn you, where have you been????"
June 6, 2013 –
page 122
43.57% "WHY aren't more people reading this book? It's shameful that in the past weeks I've read utter crap that has 100 times the readers than this little gem. What the hell is wrong with this world? Help me lord I'm falling down the stairs!"
June 6, 2013 –
page 175
62.5% "GAH! This freakin' book. Can I have Jeremiah, please?"
June 7, 2013 – Finished Reading
June 9, 2013 – Shelved as: awesome-heroines
June 9, 2013 – Shelved as: characters-i-love
June 9, 2013 – Shelved as: favorites
June 9, 2013 – Shelved as: gooey-boys
June 9, 2013 – Shelved as: books-i-own
June 9, 2013 – Shelved as: favorite-authors

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz FREEBIE: Amazon Today 2.23.2013


Brooklyn James Thank you so much Elizabeth for taking the time to read and review my novel. Your review is absolute BOSS! And not just because it's favorable...lol. It's thorough, eloquently written and even brought to my attention some insights into my own story and character development. I am thrilled you enjoyed the read :) All the best to you and yours!


Elizabeth Brooklyn wrote: "Thank you so much Elizabeth for taking the time to read and review my novel. Your review is absolute BOSS! And not just because it's favorable...lol. It's thorough, eloquently written and even brou..."

Brooklyn, it was truly a pleasure to read and review your book. Since visiting your site and reading about the genesis of this story I've come back to the review a few times, wanting to add more, feeling like it wasn't expansive enough as there were so many elements I left out. It's always toughest to write reviews for books I treasure. Then again, I guess if you're happy, I should be too :)

Having a father who grew up in that same era, I connected with Harley's situation immediately and truly appreciated that her father was so multifaceted. It's important, I think, to remember that abuse comes in many forms and often from those we love and trust the most. And while they may in many respects shape us, they do not define who we are. So kudos to you for capturing the complexities so succinctly.

Anyway, I ramble. I'm very much looking forward to reading Let It Go, which is already on my shortlist to read/review. All the best to you and yours as well.


message 4: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz Elizabeth wrote: "Brooklyn wrote: "Thank you so much Elizabeth for taking the time to read and review my novel. Your review is absolute BOSS! And not just because it's favorable...lol. It's thorough, eloquently writ..."

Elizabeth so glad you loved it.. you express yourself so eloquently!! Love TBMMGM!!!! It is something I will treasure forever and share with my niece when she is old enough! Long way to go as she is only 7 months old...


Elizabeth Liz wrote: "Elizabeth wrote: "Brooklyn wrote: "Thank you so much Elizabeth for taking the time to read and review my novel. Your review is absolute BOSS! And not just because it's favorable...lol. It's thoroug..."

Thank you so much, Liz! And thanks to you for your review, which is what prompted me to add this to my bloated TBR list. It really was an amazingly lovely book and one that will go on the "Will Keep Forever" shelf. When my teen reading group starts up again in the fall, I hope to get it on the list.

LoL, yeah, you'll be waiting a while to pass this along to your little niece! I'd say at least 16+ years, give or take ;)


Stephenie I'm so happy you loved it!!!!


Elizabeth Stephenie wrote: "I'm so happy you loved it!!!!"

OMG, such love. It was heavy, but a good heavy and I loved me some Jeremiah. He should start a Super Swoony Club with Josh Bennett and Darcy Wilson :)


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