A book like Thank You for All Things by Sandra Kring is pretty hard to put into words — in fact, I’ve been thinking about that all morning! It’s a story about family, yes, and it’s a story about secrets, lies, betrayals and cycles of grief. It’s also a story about change, giving oneself the permission to move on and regaining the ability to love and trust.
Thank You For All Things’ narrator is Lucy McGowan, an 11-year-old girl with the “measly” IQ of 144 (the average American has an IQ of 98, according to Google). Her twin brother Milo is an absolute genius who can handily recite pi up to roughly position 48,000 and counting, but has a difficult time relating to the reality of people, situations and the here and now. Lucy, a “people reader” with a serious interest in psychology, lives in Chicago with her twin, mother Tess and Tess’s mother, who everyone affectively calls “Oma.” Oma is a New Age guru who believes strongly in natural healing, patience and the spirits — and she will rely upon these strengths when this band of the McGowan clan is called home to Timber Falls, Wisconsin to care for Sam, the dying father of Tess and Clay and ex-husband of Oma.
Thus begins a long journey toward redemption, forgiveness and the mighty unearthing of secrets — and there are some serious ones. Lucy and Milo are raised by their mother with absolutely no knowledge of their father, his story or where he is now — only that he plays no role in their life, other than through his absence. Lucy is far too bright to recline, absently minding her business and refusing to delve into the past. As she secretly explores her mother’s childhood and teenage years through stolen glances at Tess’s old journals, Lucy finds out far more than she could have ever imagined about her grandfather. And Sam’s presence in all of their lives — especially then, as infirm as he has become — changes all of them forever.
Kring is a fantastic writer with an impeccable sense of detail, atmosphere and environment, and the shifts between “past” and “present” in this novel are seamless. One moment I was peering over Lucy’s head at her mother’s laptop, reading about all of the feelings Tess won’t acknowledge to anyone but herself. The next moment I was riding along on Milo’s bike, Feynman barking along next to me, pedaling as fast as I can to feel like I’m finally “normal” and a part of something that, for once, doesn’t make me a total outsider. Seconds later I’m watching a bloody fight between Sam and Oma that happened some 15 years earlier, my mouth open in silent rage and horror.
For as great as this book was — and it was great — don’t get me wrong: it was pretty disturbing. By the time I reached the final chapters, where so much of the past comes bubbling up and spills out all at once, my heart was pounding so hard, I had to actually get a bottle of water and put the book down for a few minutes. I felt incredibly sad for Oma, Tess, Milo and Lucy, and sad for Tess’s boyfriend Peter, too, that he wants so badly to love someone so closed off to love. The other characters in the story — Maude Tuttle, Marie, Mitzy — are all so loveable, too, even if not in a “conventional” way. To say you feel as though you know each of them is an understatement.
By the end of Thank You For All Things, you’re riding along in the Jeep with the whole crew, saying a silent prayer with Oma in gratitude for everything — past and present — that brought you here, to this moment, right now.
4.5 out of 5!