Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Nine years ago Button and Winnalee began recording observations in their Book of Bright Ideas, a tome they believed would solve the mystery of how to live a mistake-free life. Now it’s 1970, a time of peace, love, war, and personal heartbreak. Button’s mother is dead and her grieving father has all but abandoned his children. Quiet, thoughtful Button has traded college for a sewing job in her mother’s bridal shop to help her Aunt Verdella raise her whirlwind six-year-old brother. In Button’s free time, she writes letters to the boy she loved from afar through high school, hoping he will come to love her as more than a friend.
Then, like that magical Wisconsin summer of ’61, Button is greeted with the wild, gusty arrival of Winnalee. Now a beautiful flower child, Winnalee is everything Button is not. She’s been to Woodstock and enjoys “free love,” but their steadfast bond of friendship is tested as Button begins to notice the cracks in Winnalee’s carefree façade. And then Winnalee’s mother arrives with a surprise that Button never sees coming, and the fiery determination to put things right in both families once and for all. -- Bantam Books
In April 2008, my book club read THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS by Sandra Kring. We all loved the book and thought it was a fun discussion; and I think more than one of us thought that Ms. Kring should write a sequel. Well, it's a few years later (and a few books later) and Ms. Kring has done just that. Her latest book is called A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS, and it picks up on the lives of Button and Winnalee almost then years after they last saw each other.
I enjoyed A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS very much. It only took a few pages for me to remember just how much I loved the first book and how wonderful these characters are. While A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS takes place in the early 1970s when the girls are now young women, it had the same look and feel as the original story. Each chapter begins with one of the girls' "Bright Ideas" which are cute (yet wise) life lessons that the girls wrote down when they children. And both Button and Winnalee have turned out pretty much the way you'd expect based on their younger personalities.
Button has now graduated from high school and is working as a seamstress at a bridal store. Her life has been full of sadness and disappointment, and she pines away for a boy who is over in Vietnam. She is responsible (along with her Aunt Verdella and Uncle Rudy) for her little brother because her mother died unexpectedly and her father can barely take care of himself. Needless to say, Button isn't filled with much happiness or hope... until Winnalee sweeps into town just the way she did ten years ago!
Winnalee is definitely a wild spirit! She attended Woodstock and has toyed with drugs and free-love, but Button is drawn to her despite her concerns. As Button sees that Winnalee's life might not be as care-free as she first thought, she begins to question Winnalee and their friendship. Their friendship goes through some ups and downs, but both girls eventually realize the importance of love and family.
At its heart, A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS is about Button and Winnalee and their friendship. And while I do love Button and Winnalee, the secondary characters in this story make it extra-special. I absolutely adored Button's Aunt Verdella and her quiet Uncle Rudy who has such terrific insight into life. I also liked Winnalee's mom who is a piece of work herself, and I even grew to appreciate Button's very damaged father.
Overall, I found A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS to be delightful. The characters that Ms. Kring has created are so much fun, and they definitely have stayed in my mind long after I closed the last page of this book. I love that this book is full of humor (like when the women are doing their naked dance and the town gossip catches them!), and I did find myself laughing quite a bit. But A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS is also extremely touching. The women in this novel have been through some horrible things including sexual abuse and loss, and my heart did break for each one of them. But these women are so special. They are resilient and beautiful and they just embrace life. I love these women and what they represent about love, family, and friendship; and I hated to see this book come to an end.
Since A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS is a sequel, I'm sure many of you are wondering if it works as a standalone novel. I can assure you it does. I think Ms. Kring does a fantastic job of providing the reader with the necessary background information about the characters' pasts. (And if I'm being entirely honest, the background was helpful for me too because I didn't remember some of the specifics about the first book.) However, I do recommend reading THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS first because it is such a gem of a book with some wonderful characters.
A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS would make a wonderful book club pick. There is a reading guide included in the back of my book; however, I wasn't able to find a link online. Some of the topics you might want to explore include friendship, loss, abuse, grief, parent/child relationships, motherhood, secrets, forgiveness, guilt, and love. This novel delves into so many universal themes and I'm sure women will be able to relate to many of the relationship aspects of this story.
I highly recommend both A LIFE OF BRIGHT IDEAS and THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS to fans of women's fiction. I adored both of these books and I just love how they made me feel when I was reading them.
And how cute is this cover?
Thanks to the author and publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.