Review of What’s Worth Keeping by Kaya McLaren

What’s Worth Keeping

Kaya McLaren

January 19, 2021

St. Martin’s Griffin

Blurb: The day her doctor says the one word that no one wants to hear, Amy Bergstrom discovers a secret that her husband of 25 years has been keeping from her. Now that the months of treatment and surgeries are behind her, she escapes her claustrophobic life seeking healing, peace and clarity in an ancient forest in Washington State, a forest that holds memories of her childhood summers.

After dropping off his daughter at Amy’s Aunt Rae’s horse ranch in the mountains of New Mexico, Officer Paul Bergstrom visits the fixer-upper he had bought years ago as a place to retire with his family. Although it appears fine on the outside, the inside is a disaster―just like his marriage. When he finds himself with more off-duty time than he expected, he lovingly repairs his dream home, building the future he so desperately wants.

Witnessing her mother’s health crisis had been terrifying enough, but learning the cause was genetic leaves Carly with the sense that all of her dreams are pointless. With the help of her eccentric great aunt and a Clydesdale named T. Rex, Carly just may find her faith in her future again.

Amy, Paul, and Carly discover that love and family are worth keeping in this powerful, emotional, and hopeful novel.

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Reading the first few pages of a book by a new to you author is a lot like being given a surprise: you hope you’ll like it, but you’re wary nonetheless. The first few pages of What’s Worth Keeping by Kaya McLaren were the bad kind of surprise because my opinion of the main character, Amy, who is at the heart of this novel was not complimentary. If I didn’t like the main character, how was the reading of the rest of the novel going to go?

The characters in What’s Worth Keeping are complex, layered, much like most of the people we know in our day to day lives. So, my first impression of Amy did not stick through my reading of the entire novel, but it did revisit, which is okay. We don’t like everyone all the time.

Amy survived breast cancer, but it took a lot from her and her family. As we begin the novel, changes are happening and her husband, Paul, and daughter, Carly, are trying to navigate this new terrain as well as the terrain they’ve covered in the past year since her diagnosis and subsequent treatment. For Paul, it’s tested a decision he made months prior to her diagnosis based on his own job as a homicide detective, a first responder searching through the rubble after the bombing of of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and survivor’s guilt. For Carly, a high school senior, her mother’s cancer has awakened her to an uncertain future. Whether she has the same gene as mother and grandmother that could increase her chances for cancer in the future and what does one do with that knowledge?

The descriptions throughout What’s Worth Keeping, especially of nature, are lush, making the setting very much alive for the reader. As well, the descriptions of what Amy went through are equally descriptive, coming, undoubtedly, from McLaren’s experience as a breast cancer survivor. Some are difficult to read. Equally difficult to read are the descriptions of Paul’s experience of digging through the rubble of the Murrah building for survivors, hoping to find some of his acquaintances or some of the children from the daycare in the building still alive.

While much of the narration and experiences are sad and solemn, the novel does end on a note of hope for everyone. The reason for hope is that all of the characters have finally started communicating. This was an element I picked up on right away. No one talked to each other about what was bothering them. They reacted and judged and stayed quiet and, in Amy’s case, became bitter. How much simpler all of our interactions would be if we just talked through issues, said what was on our mind, cleared the air, allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.

The other aspect of the novel I loved and deeply respected was how attune all of the characters were to nature and what it represents. All of the plants, flowers, trees, animals, all breathe air we all share. The planet is not just for humans but for all life. Knowing this, accepting this, is a method of finding and healing oneself.

Finally, for the only character I did not mention, Great Aunt Rae. What a person! My favorite character. A woman who loved deeply and lost that love, but loves her family and the world around her and has always lived her life unapologetically. If we all could be so brave to live so well.

So, despite my initial reservations, which one should not always heed when one begins a novel, I loved this book and its connection to the natural world and recognition of how we all would be much better if we communicated.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.



4 butterflies and a ladybug out of 5 butterflies

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