I’m happy to share this first published review of At the Seams.
Or read here…
At the Seams is a novel of family loss that contains elements of pain and recovery that could prove triggers to readers who have experienced similar tragedy in their lives. This warning aside, At the Seams cultivates a winning sense of discovery and revival. It’s presented from the perspective of a precocious eight-year-old who discovers that a baby brother of her mother died in the hospital before she could begin to know or remember him. Kate’s discovery leads to a series of investigations and revelations that follow her into adulthood as she navigates her own life and a generational loss that returns to haunt her decisions and perceptions.
How does a newborn, healthy baby suddenly die in the hospital? It’s a mystery that emerges out of the blue when a conversation with her mother reveals part of the truth. The tale is narrated by Kate, a grandchild whose legacy is presented in a more forthright manner by her mother, but which still comes shrouded in a mystery that requires further explanation. As her investigation unravels family secrets, motivations for keeping them, and reveals the truth, readers become immersed in a vivid saga spiced with the intergenerational experiences of a family motivated to resist reality.
Pamela Gwyn Kripke does a fine job of exploring the evolving circumstances from the perspectives of a child who grows into the ability to pursue answers to these questions. The strength of this story lies not so much in the original loss, but the long-term impact it has on the entire family structure as secrets are agreed to, kept, and passed down between generations. Kate’s pursuit strengthens when, as a single mother, she finds these patterns unexpectedly repeating in her own life and choices. The impulse to hide, disguise, and modify reality is one that has been handed down quite inadvertently on some levels and more purposely on others, and it prompts Kate to grow and pursue where other family members have settled into quiet complacence.
Her revelations aren’t always welcomed by her family. In fact, they think she’s gone overboard in her focus: “Was it possible that Grandma Lilly wasn’t just homesick? Had she forced the baby’s death into oblivion in order to survive all these years, only to have it destroy her now? Or was I too obsessed to see straight? Everyone said I was obsessed.” Is there such a thing as too much information? Not to Kate’s mind. Readers who follow her pursuit will find much food for thought in her story, between her sparking of family resistance and reactions and the links between her own patterns and those mirrored in her grandparents’ choices. Libraries and book clubs looking for vivid stories of loss and its resounding impact on generational connections and life patterns will find much food for thought and discussion in At the Seams, a novel which unravels not just the truth, but the hidden costs of accepting or rejecting it.