Book Review: The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West

Quick Summary:

The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West is the story of Sara King. Set in the 1960s, Sara leaves her hometown of Chicago and heads to Memphis full of secrets and pregnant with a baby boy. She’s welcomed to Memphis by Mama Sugar, the owner of the popular boardinghouse The Scarlet Poplar. Sara begins to work at the The Scarlet Poplar as she deals with the heavy feelings and secrets she carries, while trying to raise a son on her own. With time, Sara opens up to welcome the sense of community that surrounds her both at the boardinghouse and in her neighborhood.

Plot Overview:

As Sara slowly gets used to Memphis life, she becomes more open to being an active member of her new community though at first she was incredibly hesitant. She gets drawn towards conversations talking about current events; the fight for equal rights as segregation still existed at the time. As these themes surround Sara’s story, she still feels haunted by her secrets and even wonders if she’s worthy of the love and care she’s now surrounded by. Especially the love coming from Jonas, the school teacher, who has a liking to her from the beginning despite her initial negative reaction towards him.
Love begins to bloom between Jonas and Sara and her secrets begin to weigh heavier as their relationship progresses. After questioning she was worthy of him and his love, she lets him in on her secrets and a weight is lifted off her when he confirms that he will love her no matter what. At this point, Sara wonders if what she’s feeling is genuine happiness, and hopes she’s able to hold onto it for as long as possible.

Common Themes + Opinions:

The biggest theme in this story is Sara’s ability to cope with grief and guilt. Throughout the story we learn that her mother died when Sara was still young. She remembers a lot of what her mother told her, the lessons she taught her, and the books she encouraged her to read. Holding onto her mother was Sara’s glimmer of hope, though she still carried the grief and anger at her father for essentially erasing her mother out of their home and life after her passing. Her father was abusive towards her and her mother – there are glimpses where Sara remembers her mother covering her bruises and figuring out how not to anger her father. However, Sara still felt the actual brunt of his wrath, seeing as she was within his grasp. It’s alluded to that Sara was raped by her father, which led to her pregnancy. This, tied with another secret, is the reason for Sara fleeing her hometown for sanctuary elsewhere as she internalized those events.
Sara struggles to love her son and resents him in the first half of the book, which is honestly sad to read. Her resentment towards her son is linked to how she got pregnant, further confirming my theory that her father raped her. With time, she begins to warm up to her son and sees him not as a stain on her life to forever remind her of her past, but as a hope for the future as she acknowledged the parts of him that belong to her.
Other events occur later in the book that cause Sara to go through another bout of immense grief and much like how this story started, Sara considers running away again. She realizes she needs her support system – her two childhood friends from Chicago – despite the fact that she was surrounded by a supportive community. Despite the fact that Sara fit into this community and was welcomed with open arms, she no longer felt like she belonged. Though these feelings were largely motivated by her grief, she decides that the solution is to run.

Final Thoughts + Ratings:

Overall, The Two Lives of Sara was a great read. It was unlike any book I’m used to reading, given that I primarily read romance. Though there is some romance in the book, it’s not the sole focus of Sara’s story. Her story was layered and though at first I had trouble getting into it, by the time I was halfway through, I was captivated by the book and devoured it within hours. It was a sad story, though. Sara is carrying a lot on her own, and you empathize with her. At first, I questioned why she was so angry but her anger was justified given her life events. Once she realized it was safe for her to soften, she did and she got hopeful, which is what I felt for her as the story progressed. By the time I finished the book, I totally cried! It wasn’t the ending I expected but the one that made sense for her. WIth that said, I give The Two Lives of Sara four stars.
Have you read The Two Lives of Sara? Let me know in the comments!
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