March 13, 2015

Bread Crumb Trails of Love Letters

If You Find This Letter by Hannah Brencher

Release Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Howard Books
Pages: 272 pages
Source & Format: Edelweiss; e-ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Fresh out of college, Hannah Brencher moved to New York, expecting her life to look like a scene from Sex and the City. Instead, she found a city full of people who knew where they were going and what they were doing and didn't have time for a girl still trying to figure it all out. Lonely and depressed, she noticed a woman who looked like she felt the same way on the subway. Hannah did something strange - she wrote the woman a letter. She folded it, scribbled If you find this letter, it's for you on the front and left it behind.

When she realized that it made her feel better, she started writing and leaving love notes all over the city--in doctor's offices, in coat pockets, in library books, in bathroom stalls. Feeling crushed within a culture that only felt like connecting on a screen, she poured her heart out to complete strangers. She found solace in the idea that her words might brighten someone's day.

Hannah's project took on a life of its own when she made an offer on her blog: She would handwrite a note and mail it to anyone who wanted one. Overnight, her inbox exploded with requests from people all over the world. Nearly 400 handwritten letters later, she started the website, The World Needs More Love Letters, which quickly grew.

Thoughts on If You Find This Letter
Cassie introduced me to this book after she found it while browsing Edelweiss. I think the cover caught her eye, and then she knew it was something I'd want to read as soon as she read the summary. Well, she was completely right. While I hadn't heard of Hannah Brencher before, I couldn't wait to read her story.

If You Find This Letter is Hannah Brencher's memoir. After graduating college, she moved to New York to spend a year serving others. She imagined her life there would be like one those adorable movie montages. Instead, she found herself disconnected and adrift. She felt like she was surrounded by people who had it all figured out - while she was slowly falling apart. Lonely and depressed, she writes a letter to a woman sitting across from her on the subway. While she never gives the woman the letter, she soon begins writing letters labeled If you find this letter, then it's for you and leaving them all over the city. But the secret project took on a whole new life when Hannah posted about it on her blog, offering to send letters to anyone who needed one. Nearly 400 letters later, her little project became The World Needs More Love Letters.

In some ways, I've gone back and forth on how I felt about this book. I debated the rating for a while, but it's only because If You Find This Letter was nothing that I expected. I thought it would focus more on Hannah's website and her letter-writing campaign... and to an extent, it did. But it's really just Hannah sharing her story. She writes about her depression, feeling purposeless after college, wanting to make a difference in the world and yet being overwhelmed by the immensity of that task.

If You Find This Letter reads like a conversation over coffee. It's sitting down and listening to someone pour out their heart. There are self-deprecating smiles and whispered confessions. There are deep breaths, long pauses and broken hearts. There are fist pumps and happy dances. There are hard truths and little observations. It's a celebration and a commemoration all in one. It's a memoir of the things that moved her, changed her, broke her and pushed her on. I wasn't expecting that, but I think I loved it all the more because of it.

There are times it feels a little indulgent or meanders just a bit too long in memories. And maybe I'd have enjoyed it less if I'd focused more on those moments. And there's not necessarily anything revolutionary in here. And yet. It made me FEEL. It made me stop, highlight whole paragraphs and read them over again. It made me think about my life, my passions and my calling. It made me stop and take notice. And it made me remember that everyone has a story. We're all walking around with fears, worries, hopes, and dreams. We want to be connected - to be seen and accepted, to know we're not alone and that we matter.

Personally, I loved Hannah's writing style. She's a dreamer, and I'd probably describe her as a grown up Anne Shirley. You know how Anne seems to feel things so deeply? How she sees a story in everything? How she seems to never quite fit in while simultaneously drawing people near to her? That's how I felt about Hannah while I was reading If You Find This Letter. 
"It almost feels like at some point life whacks you on the top of the head and hands you a list of all the things you can keep. The list is surprisingly long. You can keep letters. You can keep trying. You can keep secrets and you can try your hardest to keep promises. You can keep your eyes on the road. You can keep his sweatshirt, the one he left on the living room floor. You can keep photos and you can keep memories. But you cannot keep people. People are not things - you can't keep them."
Memoirs are tricky things to recommend. So much of it depends on whether a reader connects to the author's voice, and it's hard to predict how someone will react to personal reflections. So while the analytical part of me could probably find critical things to say about the book, the emotional part of me doesn't care. I loved it, and I'll be buying a copy for my shelves.

So Quotable
"Some people are dotted lines and other people are destinations. Some people get you somewhere and some people are just a place to be, all in themselves. But you cannot force those dotted lines into destinations."
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

3 comments:

  1. Woooow. Seriously, I hadn't heard of If You Find This Letter before your post, but it sounds amazing! I'm particularly moved by the second paragraph, where you describe Hannah's expectations versus reality in NYC, mostly because I've felt that. I'm definitely curious enough to consider reading this one!

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  2. I have this one coming up and your review is making me more excited. That's exactly what I want from my nonfiction reading - I want it to make me think about my own life in new ways. :)

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  3. This is the first I'm hearing about this book which is sad since it sounds so, so lovely - I've had a great streak so far with Howard Books, and I've been dipping into memoirs (a genre I've never bothered with before.) It seems like a win-win for me!

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