Alabama author Patti Callahan Henry tackles a mystery with ‘The Secret Book of Flora Lea’
Published On: 04.26.23 |
By: Alec Harvey
Patti Callahan Henry is about to release her 18th book and she’s still a little nervous.
“I’ve got some jitters,” says Henry, who lives in Mountain Brook with her husband, Pat. “I guess if I don’t have them, it means I don’t care. … I’ve been alone with this story for a long time and, now, it will be out in the world.”
The world is already reacting to “The Secret Book of Flora Lea” in a positive way. It has been featured in Real Simple magazine and by Books-A-Million and the American Library Association, among others, and Kirkus calls it “an enchanting tribute to the power of storytelling” in its starred review.
And though there are some jitters, Henry is ready for a larger audience to read it.
“I’m really excited,” she says.
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“The Secret Life of Flora Lea,” Henry’s first book in two years, follows “Surviving Savannah” and “Once Upon a Wardrobe,” both released in 2021 and both sweeping works of historical fiction.
The new book is historical fiction, too, but perhaps leaning more toward the fictional side than the previous two.
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“Operation Pied Piper is the historical part that starts the story off,” she says. “During World War II, British children were sent from cities to the country to be kept safe from incoming German bombs. In September 1939, 800,000 children were sent off on trains in four days.”
In Henry’s book, two of those children are sisters Hazel and Flora Lea, sent to live with a family in a rural area on the banks of the River Thames. There, 14-year-old Hazel distracts her 5-year-old sister with tales of a fairy tale land, Whisperwood, created entirely by the sisters’ imaginations. One day, though, Flora disappears, believed to have drowned in the river.
Hazel blames herself for Flora’s disappearance, sure her younger sister had gone in search of Whisperwood, and she’s wracked with guilt even into adulthood. Two decades after Flora Lea’s disappearance, Hazel is working in a bookstore and opens a package containing the first draft of a book called “Whisperwood and the River of Stars,” opening old emotional wounds and giving Hazel hope her sister might still be alive.
“It’s definitely a mystery,” says Henry, who graduated from Auburn University with a nursing degree and has three grown children. “But it’s also a book about self-discovery, because Hazel has shut down in many ways.”
Henry wrote “The Secret Book of Flora Lea” during the pandemic and sold it to Simon & Schuster in February 2022.
“I loved writing this book,” she says. “It’s a complicated book, because I don’t usually write mysteries. There were more drafts of this than I normally have. I actually changed the ending at the last minute. But I had a great time with it.”
A May 1 book signing in Charleston, South Carolina, kicks off a monthlong press tour that will take her to Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
In Alabama, she’ll be at Wetumpka’s Sweet Home Books and Fairhope’s Page & Palette on May 13 and the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library and Tuscaloosa’s Ernest & Hadley Booksellers on May 18. She’ll be at Birmingham’s Thank You Books on July 16.
Kicking off the Alabama tour is an Alabama Booksmith event May 12 at Red Mountain Theatre, where Henry will appear with Sean Dietrich, the author and musician known as Sean of the South.