Author: Sofia Lundberg
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Read: December 2020
Expected publication: 23 March 2021
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
By age 50, Elin Boals has created
for herself a perfect life: her wildly successful business as Manhattan’s
preeminent fashion photographer is flourishing. Her handsome, patient husband
is devoted to her; her teenaged daughter, Alice, has been accepted to the
ballet academy of her dreams. But then Elin receives an innocuous looking
envelope. Folded inside is a star-chart, with an address written by a familiar
Shaken, Elin begins to have startling flashbacks, to a life very different from the childhood in a Paris bookstore that she has so lovingly recounted to Alice. In these images, a poverty-stricken little girl cares for her two ragged baby brothers, laughing with her family on the good days, sheltering them from her mother’s sadness and her father’s wrath on the bad days. Elin also remembers vivid walks with a young classmate, Fredrik, whose steadfast friendship and starlit confidences shaped her young life. As Elin becomes consumed by these memories, though, her New York life begins to crumble dramatically. Finally, her family’s troubling questions drive her to face, at last, the brutal secret from her past.
At once a heartwarming family story and a page-turning mystery, A Question Mark Is Half a Heart traces a surprising journey across continents to reconciliation, and toward finding a true sense of home.
I admit that it took me a little while to get invested in this book, but in the end it was very worthwhile and it tugged on my heartstrings!
We first get to meet the adult Elin, a prominent photographer who has alienated her husband and daughter by putting work before family and hardly ever being present at home. Despite their twenty-or-so years of marriage, her husband Sam knows very little about Elin’s background, and her brooding silences and odd behaviour at times have driven him to the point of leaving her. Elin’s teenage daughter Alice has also moved out of the family home, and every time they meet up she ends up being frustrated by Elin’s refusal to talk about the past.
The story started to get more emotional for me as the author gradually revealed the details of Elin’s childhood which have brought her to this point in her life, and suddenly I found myself fully engaged and more sympathetic towards the adult Elin. A father in jail, an emotionally unstable mother and a terrible tragedy when Elin is a teenager will have lasting effects on her life. From here on, the book became a touching story of family secrets, guilt and finally redemption. It also showed how we can run from our past, but never escape it until we have made peace with it.
Set in small town Sweden in the 1970s and present day New York, I also felt Elin’s displacement as an immigrant, even though she has tried to put physical distance between herself and her country of birth in an effort of leaving the past behind. It was interesting to see Elin’s character develop as she slowly let her family see the darker corners of her psyche and allow her wounds to heal.
All in all, A QUESTION MARK IS HALF A HEART was part a heartbreaking coming of age story, and part a touching tale of facing up to our darkest secrets and deep-seated guilt. I really enjoyed watching Elin’s character go through stages of grief, growth and healing, and some aspects of the story broke my heart. This is a book that will appeal to readers who like slow-burning stories focused heavily on character development and the gradual unravelling of family secrets. I really enjoyed it and would love to read more from this author in future!
Thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.