Every year, Beth and her family gather on a beautiful island in the middle of Lake Wigwakobi. Beth loves her family and loves her island: that, she believed to be an unchangeable fact of life. But when accidents, territorial conflicts, and family tragedies occur, the rift between family members feels irreparable. Years have passed, and Taid, Beth’s grandfather, has put the fate of the island, and consequently, her family, in her hands. The Best Part of Us by Sally Cole-Misch is a lush debut novel which explores nature, family, and land with nuance and patience.
What hooked me first in this novel was the utter lusciousness of the prose. The natural world is described so expertly and fully, that I had no trouble immersing myself in a landscape with which I was unfamiliar. Every description of a tree’s bark, a bird’s flight, or a rock’s ridge revealed a real love buried deep in the prose of this novel. As Beth hiked, I truly felt as though I hiked alongside her, breathing in the fresh air and feeling the bushes brush up against my calf. Such immersion made it all the more easy to understand character motivations, making Beth’s utter and complete love for the island tangible. It’s hard to walk away from it without a renewed sense of respect for the natural world that surrounds us, and it’s clear that that love came from somewhere true within Cole-Misch.
Another aspect of The Best Part of Us that struck a chord was its exploration of the complexity of family dynamics. Especially in regards to the relationship between Beth and her mother, Kate, there was so much realism reflected in Beth’s layered point of view. Every mother and daughter has a nuanced relationship, and Cole-Misch was able to capture the dissonance of such relationships without losing the underlying love that they hold for one another. Even characters I found myself disagreeing with, like Taid, were given full three dimensions and humanity, helping readers to understand these characters as people and not caricatures.
Although the prose and characterizations were well done and compelling, I had difficulties with the pacing of this novel. I found it difficult to get through the first half of the novel, when everything felt low-stakes. I enjoyed the slow characterization so far as it helped me connect to the characters, but the slow pace of the novel made it difficult to get through until tensions began to build around the halfway point.
Overall, however, The Best Part of Us was a beautiful love letter to the natural world and to human connection. I recommend it for anyone with an affinity for family stories and in-depth descriptions of nature.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Featured image via She Writes Press