For fans of Maria Semple and Rainbow Rowell, a comedy-drama for the digital age: an epistolary debut novel about the ties that bind and break our hearts.
Iris Massey is gone.
But she’s left something behind.
For four years, Iris Massey worked side by side with PR maven Smith Simonyi, helping clients perfect their brands. But Iris has died, taken by terminal illness at only thirty-three. Adrift without his friend and colleague, Smith is surprised to discover that in her last six months, Iris created a blog filled with sharp and often funny musings on the end of a life not quite fulfilled. She also made one final request: for Smith to get her posts published as a book. With the help of his charmingly eager, if overbearingly forthright, new intern Carl, Smith tackles the task of fulfilling Iris’s last wish.
Before he can do so, though, he must get the approval of Iris’ big sister Jade, an haute cuisine chef who’s been knocked sideways by her loss. Each carrying their own baggage, Smith and Jade end up on a collision course with their own unresolved pasts and with each other.
Told in a series of e-mails, blog posts, online therapy submissions, text messages, legal correspondence, home-rental bookings, and other snippets of our virtual lives, When You Read This is a deft, captivating romantic comedy—funny, tragic, surprising, and bittersweet—that candidly reveals how we find new beginnings after loss.
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About the Author
Mary Adkins is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and the Atlantic. A native of the American South and a graduate of Duke University and Yale Law School, she lives in New York City with her family. She also teaches storytelling for The Moth.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When I was offered an Advanced Reader copy of Mary Adkins’s debut novel, When You Read This, I was a bit skeptical. The book has a very serious theme: a woman passes away tragically young; how do her death and her final wishes affect those she leaves behind? The epistolary format of the book, composed mostly of blog entries, emails, and text messages, seemed a little irreverent to me. However, I enjoyed Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, which also utilizes an epistolary format, so I decided to give it a go. I’m so happy I did. Through the blog posts of Iris (the woman who passed away from cancer) and various forms of communication primarily involving her boss, Smith; her replacement at work, Carl; and her sister, Jade, this novel achieves flow and a lovely arc of emotion as those left behind find their way through grief and living and come to terms with how they can honor Iris’s final wishes in ways that also honor their goals for their own lives and help them come through Iris’s death more in touch with themselves. Watching Jade and Smith process their shared grief as they read through blog posts and drafts that Iris left behind resonated with me. I lost my mom and my daughter within ten months of each other four years ago. After their passing, I thought about so many things that I wished I had done with them or spoken about with them. I realized, in particular with my mother, how many questions I had never asked her, questions for which I will now never have the answers. I think most readers will feel a kinship with the characters in this book and be able to identify with those left behind after Iris’s death. The only reason this book didn’t get a fifth star from me is something which in another reader might be why they would give it a fifth star. I didn’t like some of the humor in the book. Sometimes it felt forced and other times it seemed silly or inappropriate. Other readers might like this aspect of the novel because it keeps it from being too somber. If you have never tried an epistolary novel, this one would be a great place to begin as it utilizes a number of elements characteristic of this format and does so in an effective manner. If you are already a fan, I think you will enjoy this novel immensely. The only people I might caution against this book are those who have very recently lost a loved one as some of the humor might not meet you where you are right now. Disclosure: Harper Collins Publishers provided me an Advanced Reader copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
I’m a huge fan of epistolary novels so I was intrigued by When You Read This since it’s told entirely through emails, blog posts, and other online communications. As expected, I loved the format! I thought that the author did a good job of utilizing various types of online communication to create the story. I thought that the inclusion of Smith's business emails added a much needed lighter note to the book. However, I found it a bit difficult to connect with the story because of the characters. I felt like I just never glimpsed enough of who they were to really become invested in them. I was most attached to Carl, the main character’s intern, because I could see his growth throughout the novel. I think a lot of readers will love this book but it ultimately wasn’t for me. I do hope to see more books in this format in the future though! *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When You Read This by Mary Adkins is a very highly recommended, heart-breaking epistolary novel set in our current digital-age. Iris Massey, 33, worked for four years helping clients perfect their brands alongside Smith Simonyi in his PR firm. Once she found out she only had six months to live, she began blogging on Dying to Blog, a blogging platform for the terminally ill. Now, after Iris has died, Smith is surprised to learn about her blog. She also had one final request for Smith: she wants him to get her blog posts published as a book. Smith looks at fulfilling this request with the help of his new intern Carl, while trying to get approval from Iris's sister, Jade. Jade, however, is adamantly opposed to this, but the two begin a correspondence and relationship while trying to deal with their grief. The chapters in this novel are all emails, blog posts, online therapy sessions, text messages, legal correspondence, charts and graphs, comments, instant messages, etc., that work together to create a montage of interpersonal communication and relationships in the digital age. I enjoy epistolary novels when they offer insight into characters and situations. This one is an excellent example of the format. The communications are charming, tragic, insightful, hilarious (yes, there are some very funny moments), surprising, empathetic, belligerent, and self-aware. They provide the platform for present day actions and part of the backstory to the flawed characters. Adkins did a great job keeping all the various correspondence from the characters true to their personalities along with what they are experiencing, feeling, and thinking. Carl is the impetus for much of the humor, along with Smith's patience with him. There were also several heartbreaking things shared, helping to further the development of the characters through this modern format. While the layout of this novel may not appeal to everyone, for those who can appreciate the format When You Read This is a real treat. Oh, and expect to cry. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins