By Ekta R. Garg
April 10, 2019
Genre: Historical fiction
Release date: March 19, 2019
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
A young woman grapples with the reality of a war-torn country. Another young woman, decades later, receives a request that seems impossible to fulfill. Both women struggle with truths they can’t voice. Author Kelly Rimmer gives readers a relatable story with mostly endearing characters in her latest book, The Things We Cannot Say.
In Poland in the late 1930s, Alina Dziak doesn’t give much thought to serious matters; she doesn’t need to. Her parents and older siblings worry enough for all of them. She simply concerns herself with her childhood sweetheart, Tomasz, and trying her best to get out of chores around the farm. She doesn’t see the point in concerning herself with talk of the silly German soldiers who have arrived.
Soon, though, Alina and her family discover that the German soldiers aren’t posturing. They’ve come with a purpose and a frightening determination. Her twin brothers are conscripted to fight. Then Tomasz gets tapped to join the war efforts, and Alina believes life can’t get any worse.
Tomasz proposes and vows to come back alive and well so that they can begin life together. As the Germans continue to take over their land, however, Alina finds it harder to believe Tomasz can survive the horrors of war. Tragedy reveals itself multiple times, but the greatest one comes when Alina is faced with a terrible choice: leave Poland for her own safety, or stay for the well-being of others?
In 2019 in Florida, Alice Michaels struggles to help her children from one day to the next. Ten-year-old Callie has been identified as academically gifted and fights the slippery slope of schoolwork that doesn’t meet her needs. Seven-year-old Eddie deals with challenges on the other end: on the autism spectrum, Eddie doesn’t communicate with words. Alice loves her children with all her heart, but handling Eddie’s outbursts and frustrations is pushing her to a breaking point.
Her husband loves her but finds himself unable to get close to Eddie. A brilliant man himself, he’s uncomfortable with his son, which upsets Alice. Little chips of resentment fleck their marriage. Even in the midst of his high-demand career in the plastics industry, he makes time for his daughter. Alice just wishes he’d do the same for Eddie.
It doesn’t help that her grandmother, Hanna, is in the hospital facing what doctors say may be her last days. Alice can’t stand the thought of losing the woman who practically raised her while her own mother pursued a demanding law career. When Alice visits Hanna, she’s overwhelmed by all that life is forcing her to accept. Then Hanna makes a request Alice can’t turn down: she wants Alice to travel to her European hometown to find someone for her.
Alice thinks of everything that could go wrong while she’s gone: Eddie could spend time in perpetual meltdowns. Callie might not get to all of her after-school activities on time. Her husband might forget to feed any of them, himself included. Worst of all: Hanna might die while she’s gone. Hanna’s desperate insistence that she make the trip, however, sways her, and Alice embarks on a trip that will change everyone.
Author Kelly Rimmer scores near perfect marks in every area of her novel. Alice’s daily ups and downs with Eddie will definitely resonate with readers who also have special needs family members. Much of what Alice has to say and feel about marriage and motherhood applies across the board, though, and any mother and wife will appreciate her candidness.
Alina’s storyline, too, will ring with authenticity. Unlike other World War II stories, Alina’s family isn’t Jewish. They don’t have to deal directly with German oppression, but that doesn’t mean they escape it. Rimmer reiterates for readers that Nazi occupation affected everyone who lived in the targeted countries, a refreshing reminder among the recent over-abundance of books on the subject.
If the book needed fine-tuning, it could have come in Alice’s interactions with her family members. Early on, nearly every encounter she has with her daughter, her husband, and her mother come across as a little too dramatic. A more restrained approach would have brought those scenes back into line with the rest of the novel. Fortunately, the restraint appears later in the book, and readers, no doubt, will find themselves in tears even as they try to read as fast as possible to get to the resolution.
Fans of WWII fiction will definitely enjoy this story, but readers who enjoy strong characters and storylines in any genre will appreciate it as well. I recommend readers Bookmark The Things We Cannot Say.