THE SECRET BOOK OF FLORA LEA
The Power of Books: An Exclusive Guest Post from Patti Callahan Henry About the Inspiration Behind The Secret Book of Flora Lea, Our May Book Club Pick
By Guest Author / May 2, 2023, at 4:12 am
By Patti Callahan Henry Twenty years after WWII, a woman’s life is upended when she discovers a mysterious book set in the imaginary world she created for her sister after being evacuated from war-torn London. Could this book be the key that helps her solve her sister’s disappearance?
This moving novel is sure to delight fans of Once Upon a River and The Paris Library. Keep reading to discover the power Patti Callahan Henry sees in books, reading, and stories that speak to the heart.
On a fine spring day in the mountains of North Carolina, I wrote the opening scene in The Secret Book of Flora Lea, knowing only this: I wanted the power of a lost story to change my character Hazel’s life. As those of us who love stories well know, stories can and do change lives.
Years before, back in Narberth, Pennsylvania, I was a knobby-kneed, awkward girl who’d often be told by my parents to, “Take your nose out of that book!” But then, one day, to my delight, my fourth-grade teacher ssh’d us and announced it was reading time.
Groans came from the other kids, all of whom seemed more comfortable in the world and with each other than I was. Not me. I was thrilled. Grabbing my book like a life preserver, I knew I had only a few minutes at best. Obsessed with The Sound of Music at the time, my book was about the real von Trapp family. Soon enough I was in Switzerland with a family, escaping the Nazis.
Then I heard my name in a loud voice: “Patti!”
I lifted my head, dazed as I often was when pulled away from a book and asked to pay attention. Now what had I done wrong?
“Reading time is over,” the teacher announced, and I dropped my book, believing I was in trouble. My curiosity, dreamy imagination, and “strong will” sometimes got me into hot water with the grownups. But then she spoke to the class, “Now that’s how you read a book. Read like Patti.”
Read like Patti.
I carried those three words around with me for the rest of my life. I was not in trouble for reading! I wasn’t being asked to join the real world. I wasn’t teased for having a book in front of my face and spending hours in my imagination.
Books like Nancy Drew mysteries and Little House on the Prairie, The Summer of the Swans and Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret were my solace, letting me know I wasn’t so alone. Even in simpler books like Charlotte’s Web or tearjerkers like Old Yeller, I was looking for hope that everything would somehow make sense and be alright, even if they weren’t just then.
As a child, I couldn’t have articulated this; I only knew that books were my respite from a confusing world. Inside each novel was a new place to dwell. Living people wandered through the hallways of my imagination, where life and death battles were being fought.
Now, as a grownup author, I struggle to wield the power of narrative with my words. Books, I have grown up believing, are both sanctuaries and places of transformation. They allow us to travel, and rewire our brains, connecting us with others through gained empathy.
We might believe that we only want happiness, but that’s now how life works, so what we truly crave is meaning. Stories help us to make sense of our lives. They transform what’s common into something remarkable, making what’s ordinary extraordinary.
When you discover a book that moves you, a thrilling alchemy occurs between you and its story: a transformation of your internal landscape, a discovery of meaning that extends beyond your own experience. That, my reading friends, is the immense power of books.
Discover the Books Mentioned in this Post
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By Fred Gipson
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