Remarkably Bright Creatures: A Novel

by Shelby Van Pelt

Hardcover, 2022

Call number




Ecco (2022), 368 pages


After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago. Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova. Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member shelleyraec
With a near 4.5 star rating from over 300,000 ratings on Goodreads to date, Shelby Van Pelt’s Remarkably Bright Creatures captured the hearts of readers when it was published in 2022. I can certainly see why.

Unfolding from the perspectives of Tova, a 70 year old cleaner at the Sowell Bay
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Aquarium; Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus nearing the end of his life; and Cameron, a man with a chip on his shoulder searching for the father he never knew, Remarkably Bright Creatures is a touching tale of holding on and letting go, of family lost and found.

Van Pelt skilfully weaves the paths of the characters together. Marcellous serves as the story’s anchor and his world weary, know-it-all first person narrative is a delight. He has spent 1299 days in captivity, having been ‘rescued’ as an injured juvenile, and, being ‘a remarkably bright creature’ has studied the people who have passed by his tank, as closely if not more than, those who have studied him. When Tova finds the giant Pacific octopus improbably tangled among power cords in the staff break room and helps him return to his tank, a bond develops between them. I really felt for Tova, mourning the recent loss of her husband, and the long ago presumed drowning of her son. She’s a reserved, stoic woman and though she has a small group of close friends, an injury forces her to consider her plans for the future. Tova and Cameron become acquainted when Cameron fills in for her at the aquarium after her fall. Cameron is, for much of the book, unlikeable. Immature, resentful and churlish, his redemption is a slow process.

Though the focus of the novel is on the characters journey, there is also a touch of mystery. It’s not much of a puzzle for the reader to piece together, but as it’s Marcellus who is the unlikely catalyst in leading the characters to resolve it, some suspension of belief is required, though I personally was more than willing.

Told with an engaging combination of emotion, humor, wit and wisdom, Remarkably Bright Creatures is a contemplative, heartwarming novel.
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LibraryThing member beckyhaase
I was prepared to dismiss this book as entirely ridiculous after my self-appointed requirement of 75 pages; however, what I discovered was a perfectly delightful, well written and tender character study.
The story concerns a 70-year-old woman stuck in
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grief for a teenaged son lost to an early death, a 30-year-old man-child stuck in anger at a mother who abandoned him at age 9 and an aging octopus stuck in a too small “prison” longing for the vast ocean he can hear outside the aquarium. One supporting character I enjoyed was the busybody owner of the grocery store who inserts himself into everyone else’s business.
To tell you more would spoil this novel. Read it for yourself and be delighted. I hope the author writes another tale for us to enjoy.
5 of 5 stars for a surprisingly good novel with an unusual collection of characters and a first-time author.
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LibraryThing member jepeters333
After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years
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Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.
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LibraryThing member VanessaCW
This is a wonderful little tale about the relationship and connection between a cleaner who works in an aquarium, a wastrel who is looking for his father and a very clever Giant Pacific Octopus called Marcellus. I read it via the Pigeonhole app, a stave at a time, and I can honestly say I was
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eagerly looking forward to immersing myself in this absorbing story every day. The characters are just fantastic and so believable, especially the marvellous Marcellus! The reader is allowed into the mind of Marcellus, thereby revealing his thoughts, and for some reason, I found this quite convincing! 😊🐙. It’s a story about family, grief, love and loneliness. A beautifully written, poignant and heartwarming read which I can highly recommend. I loved it!
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LibraryThing member WeeziesBooks
This is one of the best, most delightful, and enjoyable books I have read in a long time. I was captivated by the characters, the interweaving plots, and the development of the humanity of all creatures. I will definitely be recommending this book for book club and have already shared it with many
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friends. An environmental story opens the conversations of what is the right thing to do about aquariums, zoos, and places of entertainment for people. A light, yet important book to read and discuss.
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LibraryThing member msf59
Tova is a seventy-year-old woman working the night shift, cleaning the local aquarium. She is also still mourning the loss of her son, who disappeared many years ago. Cameron is an aimless young man, living in a beat-up camper and trying to pull his life together. Marcellus is a giant Pacific
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octopus, residing at the aquarium. How this unlikely trio comes together is the heart of this story and it is a pure delight. The reviews have been wonderful on this one, I am gladly jumping on board.
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LibraryThing member Michael.Rimmer
Being predictable is alright when the outcome is what you hoped for, so that's ok.

I was reminded of "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce in that the main character is an elderly person who (view spoiler). However, where Harold's pilgrimage is an essential plot device without
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which the story would be something else entirely, Marcellus, the octopus narrator of Van Pelt's story, is a narrative gimmick without which the same essential story could still be told. That said, it was an effective gimmick, because if not for my interest in octopuses I wouldn't have picked up the book, and I did enjoy it.

Although I'd have enjoyed more of Marcellus, probably the balance was right: quirky and engaging without being overplayed. I can imagine it being easily adapted to a Netflix film or limited series, which I'd watch. And, while the plot resolved nicely, there's definitely scope for Van Pelt to revisit the cast of characters, which I think may be intended. Whether I'd read another installment, though, I'm not sure.

Despite a somewhat equivocal review, I'm still happy with a four-star rating
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LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
My favorite read so far this year. I loved all the characters, including the octopus. Tova Sullivan befriends a giant pacific coast octopus while she works nights cleaning at the aquarium. This was a charming and witty novel about loneliness, family and the will to go on after you've lost so much.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
The Publisher Says: After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound
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over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.


My Review:
Yes, it was a sentimental Festival of Tearjerking. I enjoyed it immensely. And you probably would, too.
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LibraryThing member mitchma
It has to be a pretty special book to motivate me to write a review. This is just such a book. Beautiful and bittersweet but with the kind of ending I like. The only thing that could have made it better would be a little more Marcellus; in fact, I'm wishing for Marcellus' own book.
LibraryThing member Mishker
Since the death of her husband, Tova Sullivan has been alone in her small town of Sowell Bay, Washington. Her only son, Erik disappeared in the ocean thirty years ago. To keep herself busy, Tova works as a cleaner at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. The Giant Pacific Octopus in residence, Marcellus, is
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unhappy with his circumstances and makes nightly rendezvous out of his tank. When he finds himself stuck, Tova comes to his rescue. Cameron Cassmore arrives in Sowell Bay trying to find the man he believes is his father. Cameron trains with Tova to clean the aquarium and Marcellus notices something about Tova and Cameron; now he has to find a way to communicate this connection before his time is up.

Octopus have always intrigued me. They are so alien and yet so human at the same time. Marcellus grabbed me right from the beginning. His realistic, curmudgeonly, yet caring attitude was just perfect and I wish he was able to share more of his story with us. The human characters are written equally as well and I liked that Tova, Marcellus and Cameron shared connections through their journeys in grief, loss and sadness. Tova's character is very practical and has chosen to deal with her grief by keeping everything meticulously clean and taking life matter of factly. I was surprised at how well Tova got along with Cameron who is very smart, yet unpredictable. As these characters become part of one another's life, Marcellus seems to be the only one who sees their connection. I loved the way that their stories all collided and how everything ended up. Remarkable Bright Creatures is an amazing book with charming characters .

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member SallyElizabethMurphy
This is by far the best novel I have read in a very long time. Well worth every moment!
LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
This is this most beautiful book inside and out!!! The cover is gorgeous and in this instance you can definitely judge a book by its cover! The story is narrated by Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus who is discovered one evening out of his tank and caught in the break room by Tova. They become
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friends and help each other in amazing ways. This book moved me to tears. Don't miss this book and if you can, you definitely want this book on your shelf! Highly recommended!!!
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LibraryThing member bell7
At the age of seventy, Tova is a widow and her only son died tragically thirty years ago, but she still has a good friends group and a job cleaning at an aquarium. Cameron is thirty and still floundering in young-adulthood, not able to hold a job and resentful of his mom's abandonment and drug
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addiction. It takes an octopus, Marcellus, to bring them together.

The narrative switches back and forth between Tova and Cameron with a close third-person point of view, then includes Marcellus's first-person narration. I enjoyed this device in what otherwise was a very predictable book. And I don't mean that as a criticism - it's the sort of book you'd wrap around you like a warm sweater with a cup of tea and enjoy seeing everything made right in the end. This is a debut novel, and I'll certainly look out for anything else that Van Pelt publishes.
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LibraryThing member jbarr5
Remarkably Bright Creatures
Story has many chapters of different people.
First is the woman who takes care of the aquarium at night and also has knitting buddies. This part I like the best because I am a knitter also.
Love the times they spend with one another. There are many others that make an
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Another person that is followed by alternating chapters is Cameron, He's left his aunts house in CA and heads to WA where he hopes to meet his fathe
Story also follows a thinking octopus that is measured in days of his life as they don't live forever. He escapes the cages and finds shiny things on floors that he collects.
Feel like I got three diffferent stories in this one book, although they are all connected.
I like the older woman story but the ohters not so much.
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LibraryThing member rmarcin
I absolutely loved this book! It is a story of love and compassion and searching for your heart and your home.
Tova is the cleaning lady at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. She loves to clean and keep things tidy. After her husband, Will, died, she needed a distraction. She also continues to mourn her 18
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yr. old son, Erik, who died suddenly and mysteriously over 30 years earlier in a boating accident. Tova doesn't believe Erik would have killed himself, but she doesn't have any explanation for his death.
Marcellus is a Giant Pacific Octopus who speaks to the reader. He explains that he has been living in captivity at the aquarium, and he becomes friendly with Tova after she shows him kindness.
Through Marcellus, we find out what happened to Erik and who the new visitor to town, Cameron, really is. He has to let Tova know, so he tries every way he can think to help her discover the truth.
This is a lovely, sweet, and heartwarming book. I loved the audio version and enjoyed the narrators. Well done!
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LibraryThing member cathyskye
My attention was drawn to Remarkably Bright Creatures by a fellow book blogger, and I thought it would be an excellent choice as an audiobook. I was right. The narrators' voices were perfect for Marcellus, Tova, Cameron, and the other characters.

I'm one of these people who've always had closer
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relationships with animals than I have with people, and I've always talked to animals like they could understand everything I say. (You may be surprised at how often they do understand.) So, I was a tasty sea cucumber just waiting for Marcellus to single me out. At first, there just weren't enough chapters from Marcellus' point of view, but then Tova and a young man named Cameron began to get their hooks into me.

It is oh-so-easy to fall under the spell of these characters, to want them to have their happy-ever-afters. And once the author lets us in on just what Marcellus knows, the hook is set. I could no more turn away from this book than I could stop breathing.

If you're in the mood for a "feel good" read, I've got the perfect one for you: Remarkably Bright Creatures. But take a word of advice: have a hanky close by as you near the end.

[Note: this book touched me so much that, when a local aquarium announced that their giant Pacific octopus was nearing the end of her life, and-- if you wanted to come see her to say goodbye, you'd better hurry-- I had a tear in my eye. It's all your fault, Marcellus.]
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
One elderly a Swedish immigrant, a 30-year-old man with a bad case of arrested development, and an octopus are all rolled into one great story. The story explores the effects of grief and yet manages to be filled with moments of humor. Marcel’s sections were delightful.

I really loved the way it
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all came together. It was everything I hoped the book “One in a Million Boy” would be. I loved seeing Cameron mature and everyone slowly discovering their connection. I loved Tova learning how to trust people again and let them in, just like Marcel the octopus.

There’s so much to talk about in the book. The different ways people deal with grief (staying busy, dwelling on it, talking to others, shutting down). Animal captivity for human entertainment. What we assume about others (people thinking Tova needed money because of the cleaning job). The way parents (or the lack there of) impact your own maturity. The way closure on an issue (like knowing her son didn't hill himself) can impact your ability to move on, the value we place in material belongings (paired with discussion of Swedish death cleaning), etc. So many interesting things.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Digital audiobook performed by Marin Ireland and Michael Urie

Tova Sullivan is a 70-year-old widow who works mopping floors and cleaning the glass on the tanks at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. She’s a quiet, steady presence, but in addition to her late husband, Tova is also mourning the loss of her son
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Erik, who was only eighteen when he disappeared in Puget Sound some thirty years ago.

Cameron is a young man who’s a bit lost. He can’t seem to keep a job and has landed in this part of Washington, still hoping to find the father who left him when he was a child.

Marcellus is a Giant Pacific Octopus who is very bright, quite wise, and observes the people who come to see him more closely than they realize. He develops a strong relationship to Tova, and is determined to help her understand what he knows.

These three characters take turns narrating the story in Van Pelt’s marvelous debut. I totally believed in Marcellus (and no, he doesn’t actually talk to the other characters) and came to love his wry observations and how he puzzled out these strange people and their odd sayings. Reminded me a bit of Chet in the Chet & Bernie mysteries when he hears a colloquialism and takes it literally (There are SMART cookies? Where are the wild geese we’re supposed to be chasing?), though Marcellus is far less prone to distraction.

They are supported by a number of characters who help flesh out the story and give depth to the main players.

Van Pelt weaves disparate characters into a tapestry of love, forgiveness and second chances. The story is tender and heart-warming and charming, if a little unbelievable. I was completely captured by it and loved every minute I spent with them. The ending is pretty perfect, though I did long for one more Marcellus chapter. This is a strong debut and I eagerly await the author’s next effort!

The audiobook is wonderfully performed by two talented voice artists: Marin Ireland and Michael Urie. I particularly loved how Urie voiced Marcellus!
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
Oh my goodness. I adored this book so much. It was beautiful, unique, and so captivating. I loved all the characters from the smarty pants octopus, Marcellus to the stuck in her ways Swedish widow, Tova - they all felt so human and so alive. Marcellus may be in captivity but he's no dummy - he
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observes everyone - and quite possibly his favorite human he sees in the aquarium is the little old woman who comes in at night to clean. Tova at least talks to him. When an interesting new character comes to town, a 30 year old with seemingly no life ambitions or gumption - the grouchy old octopus makes a connection and determines that he will spend his final days trying to bring Tova happiness - even if it's the last thing he does. Charming and cute. I can't stop thinking about this book. A wonderful debut novel.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
As is the case in most small towns, everybody who lives in Sowell Bay, Washington knows at least a little about everyone else who lives in town. And everybody knows that Tova Sullivan's son, Erik, died when he was 18, but nobody quite knows how or why, except that he was on his boat, and many
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suspect that he took his own life. Tova never believed that, though, and 30 years later, she has no more answers than she did the day he died.

Marcellus knows a little bit about what happened to Erik, or at least where his body is. But Marcellus is a Giant Pacific Octopus, and can't exactly share that information. He is, as the label by his tank reads, a remarkably bright creature, and prone to escaping from his tank. When Tova finds him stuck in a tangle of electrical cords, she helps him back in his tank, and a friendship is formed.

Cameron has never had good luck. His mother abandoned him when he was nine, and although his aunt gave him a loving home, he's never been able to live up to his potential. When a class ring and a photo suggest that wealthy real estate developer Simon Brinks is his father, he heads to Sowell Bay to find out.

Chapters go back and forth among these three characters (and yes, Marcellus is obviously the best narrator). Cameron's arrival in town sets off a chain of events that will connect the three characters, and provide some closure for all of them. The way their stories come together will not be a surprise for most readers, but the journey with these characters is so pleasurable, that no-one will mind the predictable ending. Readers will be rooting for each character to find their own kind of happiness, and will appreciate the way they do.
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
The elevator pitch for Van Pelt’s novel made me wonder if I would “connect” with this unusual work: a tale of a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus. Okay, one has to take a bit of a break from reality as some of the events unfold. And a few twists are largely predictable.
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Finally, the most unique character in this novel – eight-armed Marcellus – is sort of a supporting actor in what is largely a family drama. Still. I found this tale to be delightful, heart-warming and immensely entertaining. I even learned a lot about these “remarkably bright creatures.”
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LibraryThing member Amzzz
Lots to like about this story, maybe too many coincidences for my liking but otherwise a nice, happy ending read.
LibraryThing member janismack
Charming and witty book about friendship and reckoning and hope that traces a widow’s unlikely connection with a giant pacific octopus.
LibraryThing member LisCarey
After the death of her husband, Will, Tova Sullivan starting working as the night janitor at Sowell Bay Aquarium. She's not doing it because she needs the money. Financially, she's very comfortable. What Tova needs is the activity, to keep at bay memories of the past. Tova and Will had a son, Erik,
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who died in somewhat mysterious circumstances when he was 18. With Will gone, too, now, she needs to keep busy. The nighttime quiet of the aquarium, with no one who will bring up painful memories, and plenty of work to do, is a blessing.

Marcellus is a giant Pacific octopus, about four years old and approaching the end of his lifespan. As a young octopus, he lost part of one arm, and was rescued--though he doesn't agree with that term--and brought to the aquarium. He does not appreciate living in a tank, resents being in captivity, and wouldn't do a thing to help his captors.

It's important to know that octopuses appear to be very smart. Marcellus certainly is. He watches the humans, staff and visitors, and listens, and learns a great deal.

But Marcellus doesn't sit quietly in his tank. He's figured out how to get out, and how long he safely stay out, and introduces some variety into his diet by hunting in the other tanks.

When he checks out the break room and gets tangled in some power cords, he's stuck, and potentially doomed. It's how he and Tova meet, before she has her fall.

Cameron Cassmore is thirty years old. He's had a breakup with his girlfriend; his two best friends since childhood, Elizabeth and Brad, are married now and about to have a child, leaving him a little uncertain as to his place in their lives; and Brad, the lead singer for their band, the Moth Sausage, has said he's quitting the band. Without Brad, the struggling little band can't continue.

And Cameron is increasingly curious, not about his mother, Daphne Cassmore, who was a drug addict and left him with her sister, Jean, when he was nine, and never came back, but his father, whom he never knew. His Aunt Jean recently gave him a box of things his mother left behind, and in it he found, among other things, a gold bracelet, and a high school graduation ring--Sowell Bay High School, 1989. There are also some pictures of his mother with a man he doesn't know--his father? With that information, he does some online research, he identifies a real estate magnate, Simon Brinks, in Sowell Bay.

Soon Cameron is in Sowell Bay, cutting up fish to feed the exhibit animals. When Tova falls and injures her leg, and has to take six weeks off, he gets the extra hours he's looking for by taking her job as a temporary fill-in.

He meets Marcellus, too. And Tova can't stay away, even though she's not allowed to work for several weeks, and they all meet.

It's the beginning of a strange friendship. Marcellus learns to appreciate at least some humans, even if his view of being confined to a tank doesn't change. Tova and Cameron both make new friends in town, even as Tova finds her "Knitwit" friends (it started as a knitting group; now they just get together for lunch regularly) standing by her more than she ever expected or her determined self-sufficiency ever allowed before.

Both Tova and Cameron start to confront questions about their pasts that neither has been willing to face before. And Marcellus, knowing Cameron is looking for his father, and that Tova grieves her son and has no family left, is trying to figure out how to make them figure out, since he can't tell them, something important that he's figured out about them both.

It's a lovely story of friendship and family, and Marcellus is a wonderful character. Marin Ireland and Michael Urie both do an excellent job of narration.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.
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Audie Award (Finalist — 2023)
Heartland Booksellers Award (Finalist — Fiction — 2023)
Read with Jenna (2022-05 — 2022)
LibraryReads (Monthly Pick — May 2022)
Illinois Reads (Adult — 2023)




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