Review: A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary

July 31, 2012 General Fiction, Review, William Morrow, Women's Fiction 3

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (July 24, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0062106236
  • Source: Publisher

Susannah Delaney, her husband Matt and two children Katie and Quinn, live a hectic life in busy suburban Virginia. Katie, a teenager, is showing signs of rebellion by sneaking out late at night and drinking. She’s involved with a young man who makes it a game to take the virginity of young girls. Quinn, an adolescent, has always been a bit different than other kids his age. An old soul, his interest lies in nature and learning (and spouting out) various facts about the world around him. He’s being bullied at school and unbeknownst to Susannah, Katie has kept secret just how far this taunting has gone.

Desperate to do whatever she can to protect her children, Susannah packs up their belongings in the middle of the school year and moves thousands of miles away to Sounder, a remote island in the San Juans. They leave Matt behind; Susannah is willing to put a strain on her relationship if it means her children are safe.

To say that Sounder is a remote island is an understatement. Residents must go to the mainland to obtain all necessities, many have opted to grow their own crops to sustain them. And, to the dismay of Katie, they are without electricity and indoor plumbing. Residents have survived on this island for centuries with just the basics, so Susannah believes this is the best course of action for her struggling family. Meanwhile, she remains devastated after an accident during her childhood took the life of her younger sister, Janie. Although it’s been decades since the accident transpired, the guilt Susannah feels continues to torment her and ultimately causes her to be overprotective of her own children.

Upon their arrival on Sounder, the Delaney’s meet a host of characters living on the island. Betty Pavalak, now in her eighties, moved to the island thirty years ago to escape a painful past as well. Her husband, Bill, craved the unique and exciting life of an Alaskan fisherman. Betty was hesitant to leave her life and family behind to follow her husband’s dream, but after finally giving birth to a son after multiple miscarriages, she compromised and moved to Sounder. By this time, their marriage was the shell of what it used to be. Bill was unfaithful a number of times, so Betty decided to treat their relationship like a business relationship. Bill would leave for months at a time, returning to Betty for the summer when the fishing season was over, the money he gained from these ventures would sustain the marriage. At first, the arrangement was pure business without marital relations. But after being alone on the island, raising a child on her own, Betty craved the affection and contact that lovemaking gave her.  Still, the time Bill was away was incredibly devastating and lonely for Betty.

One can’t help but find parallels in the lives of Susannah and Betty. While Betty has come to terms with the decisions she made and the pain she suffered, Susannah is just beginning. The two form an unlikely bond and Betty helps Susannah see that she must face her fears and forgive herself for what happened to her as a child. Doing so will not only benefit her, but the lives of her children and her marriage to her husband.  The following line stated Betty’s sentiments perfectly:

“Don’t confuse guilt and shame. It’s okay to feel badly about something you’ve done. But don’t let it make you feel badly about who you are.”


Susannah’s character is completely flawed in that her form parenting is built on reacting, oftentimes without thinking. This trait goes back to her early adulthood and served as a coping mechanism of sorts. That said, she gets after Katie for behaving the same way, acting impulsively. Granted, Susannah is an adult and Katie is her child, but the similarities between the two are remarkable. Additionally, seeing this flawed character, a mother that has faults and needs healing, sheds a bit of believability that will allow readers to connect with her even more. Countless novels have been published with mothers as perfect superheroes with the perfect life and no faults. It is refreshing to see a genuine character like that of Susannah.

A Simple Thing is an incredibly endearing and heartwarming story not only about a mother’s love but coming to terms with one’s own past. As a mother, I felt so connected to this novel, especially since my oldest son, John-John, was bullied. I remember feeling that I would do whatever it takes to protect him, but ultimately had to realize, like Susannah did, that there is a point that I must let go and allow him to protect and stand up for himself, to be his own individual.  I saw so many similarities between John-John and Quinn. John-John has always been fascinated with nature and would (and frankly, still does!) share unique and interesting facts with us. He always seemed to be a bit more mature than his classmates and would rather spend time researching a newly discovered animal or scientific fact than playing catch outside with others his age.

It is connections like this that form the very essence of this novel. I guarantee that readers of all types–single or married, with children or without–will form a connection with this novel. Highly recommended.

3 Responses to “Review: A Simple Thing by Kathleen McCleary”

  1. Anita
    Twitter: anitalovesbooks

    I really like the sound of this book. I just entered on Shelf Awareness for a chance to win.m