The Words Between Us, by Erin Bartels

Robin has been in hiding since she was fifteen years old. When her father was charged with murder and embezzlement and her mother charged as his accomplice, Robin left her home in Massachusetts to live with her maternal grandmother in Michigan. Even a decade later, Robin is hiding from the press. She changed her name. She refuses to talk to journalists. She often lies or clams up when people ask about her past. It’s hard to blame her, since so many people relish the scandal. In The Words Between Us, Erin Bartels shows us Robin at 15 and Robin as an adult. At 15, Robin hides as hard as she can. As an adult, Robin may be ready to live her life in the open.

The Words Between Us is told in alternating chapters. The “now” chapters show Robin in River City, Michigan, struggling to keep her bookstore open. In what may be her last year in business, Robin starts to receive books that she received as a teenager from the one boy she ever loved. These are not just the same title; they are the exact same copies. Peter, her lost love, is sending these books to her and Robin doesn’t know why. The “then” chapters take us back to the year that Robin went to live with her grandmother. Robin was a more-than-usually prickly teenager. This prickliness comes from her fear that word will get out that she is the daughter of a murderer and criminal. But a chance meeting in a cemetery, of all places, leads to a relationship with Peter—the one person who seems willing to work past the prickliness.

The plot of this novel verges on overstuffed, especially towards the end when Robin starts to realize that almost everything she thought she knew about her parents might be a lie. What kept me in The Words Between Us was Robin’s psychological journey. She experienced a unique trauma, one that no one really seems to understand. I don’t know if a therapist would have been able to help her. Having one’s relationship with one’s parents so completely ripped away, as Robin’s is, seems like the kind of trauma that one can only get through with time, a fair amount of introspection, and friends who refuse to let one turn into a complete recluse. Robin makes a lot of mistakes but, because I see things from her perspective, I feel like I can understand where she goes wrong. Best of all, I got to see a character find her soulmate. I’m a sucker for stories in which messed up characters find soulmates.

The Words Between Us was an absorbing read, with fantastic characters and an original plot. I have my quibbles, but I really was hooked on this book. I think that it might be more recommend-able than most books I read, to be honest. The grisly bits happen off-screen, so it’s not terribly violent. The theme of forgiveness, which pops up towards the end, will appeal to a lot of readers—without being too sappy for readers who don’t buy into stories about faith. There are enough challenges in this book to make the ending feel earned by characters I was definitely rooting for. The Words Between Us turned out to be a very satisfying read.

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