“And now, for the second time, it was as if a word had been spun through a kaleidoscope and reshaped into something with a whole different meaning.”
~Julia Dunhill, via Sarah Pekkanen in Skipping a Beat
There are books that draw us in further and further as we glide through the pages, their messages slowly intertwining themselves with each sentence. There are books that end with a bang, pulling us in with a startling, all-encompassing conclusion. And then there are the books that resonate from the first page, the words jumping out like little sprinkles of magic. Sarah Pekkanen’s Skipping a Beat is one of those. It’s more than that, so much more. It’s wisdom, grace, humor, inspiration, reflection, and emotion all tied into the patchwork of an intricately crafted story.
I read Sarah’s first novel, The Opposite of Me, over the summer and became an instant fan of her writing. There’s something so fluid and natural about it, something that makes you feel like you’re right there in the story itself, instead of just reading from the viewpoint of an observer. Sarah’s words make you think, they make you ponder, and they make you feel. With her second novel, which is released today, she takes it to an entirely new level. Reading it was a unique experience. I was so invested in the characters that part of me wanted to speed through and find out how their story continued to unfold. The other part, though, wanted to savor every word and absorb every gem that sparkled its way through the lines. And when I finished this morning? Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to describe it. I’m an emotional person, but I don’t usually cry because of television shows, movies, or books. There was a point with this novel, though – a few points, actually – when I had to put it down and dry my eyes because the tears were blurring my vision. There’s just this indescribable quality about it, something that’s very, very special. Jennifer Weiner’s blurb mentions an ending that leaves readers breathless. This reader agrees whole-heartedly.
Julia and Michael Dunhill are the couple who seemingly has it all – the multi-million dollar mansion, the vacation home in Aspen, the expensive cars and more money than they can count. They attend galas with congresspeople, hobnob with the rich and powerful, and live a life that they’d once only imagined. On the surface, everything is perfect. There are so many layers, though, and when they’re stripped away, a very different picture is painted. Bonds have faded and the knot of their connection has slowly been unraveling. They’ve traveled a long path from the high school sweethearts they once were, and they’ve both changed since the day when a teenage Mike became a teenage Julie’s unwitting and charming hero. Surrounded by this life that so many people want, Julia’s never felt more alone. And then, in the span of four minutes and eight seconds, everything changes again. Michael goes into cardiac arrest and wakes up a very different man. He’s determined to make things right, to take everything he thought he wanted and cast it all aside in the face of what he now knows is truly most important. He’s holding out faith that Julia will join him on the journey … but can she? Can she face the demons of the past – the ones she’s fought on her own and the ones they’ve fought together – or will she let them shadow over the future? Can she set aside the wealth and prestige that their lives have become in order to find her way back to the man she once loved with all her heart?
Going on Julia’s journey with her was an inspiring experience. Sarah anchored the story in the present, but through flashbacks and memories, she gave us a glimpse into all the moments that had led the characters to that point in time. She developed them so deeply, delving into the smallest of details that made them seem more like actual people than characters on a page. Even the secondary characters came alive. Julia’s best friend Isabelle was another bright spot, and her personal story resounded with chords of hope and faith. Noah and his dog Bear, Kate (Michael’s assistant), and even Gene (Julia’s assistant, who was mentioned only briefly) all felt so real. From math problems to organizational tricks to a love for Internet Scrabble, Sarah weaves in the minutiae that some might overlook. Her writing is real, true, and so beautifully crafted. The metaphors she uses seem effortless, and the description is so vivid that I felt like I could see every scene flash before my eyes.
This book didn’t just affect me as a reader. It also inspired me as a writer. Authors like Sarah remind me why I continue to persevere in this journey to publication, no matter how many twists and turns that roller coaster takes. Because this novel of hers? It’s easy to see what a work of heart it was for her to write … and what can be a better gift than that?