Book Review: Stories That Bind Us

29 Dec

I had Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner on my TBR shelf for too long. I finally made some time to read it and am so very glad. It made my 2020 best of the best list. Now I am glad I read it, but was sorry to leave the characters that inhabited its pages. This book is very highly recommended!


Betty Sweet never expected to be a widow at 40. With so much life still in front of her, she tries to figure out what’s next. She couldn’t have imagined what God had in mind. When her estranged sister is committed to a sanitarium, Betty finds herself taking on the care of a 5-year-old nephew she never knew she had.

In 1960s LaFontaine, Michigan, they make an odd pair. Betty with her pink button nose and bouffant hair. Hugo with his light brown skin and large brown eyes. But more powerful than what makes them different is what they share: the heartache of an empty space in their lives. Slowly, they will learn to trust one another as they discover common ground and healing through the magic of storytelling.

Award-winning author Susie Finkbeiner offers fans a novel that invites us to rediscover the power of story to open the doors of our hearts.

Susie Finkbeiner is a story junkie. Always has been and always will be. It seems it’s a congenital condition, one she’s quite fond of.

After decades of reading everything she could get her hands on (except for See the Eel, a book assigned to her while in first grade, a book she declared was unfit for her book-snob eyes), Susie realized that she wanted to write stories of her own. She began with epics about horses and kittens (but never, ever eels).

It takes years to grow a writer and after decades of work, Susie realized (with much gnashing of teeth and tears) that she was a novelist. In order to learn how to write novels, she read eclectically and adventurously (she may never swim with sharks, but the lady will jump into nearly any story). After reading the work of Lisa Samson, Patti Hill, and Bonnie Grove she realized that there was room for a writer like her in Christian fiction.

Her first novels Paint Chips (2013) and My Mother’s Chamomile (2014) have contemporary settings. While she loved those stories and especially the characters, Susie felt the pull toward historical fiction.

When she read Into the Free by Julie Cantrell she knew she wanted to write historical stories with a side of spunk, grit, and vulnerability. Susie is also greatly inspired by the work of Jocelyn Green, Rachel McMillan, and Tracy Groot.

A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl (2015), Finkbeiner’s bestselling historical set in 1930s Oklahoma, has been compared to the work of John Steinbeck and Harper Lee (which flatters Susie’s socks off). Pearl’s story continues with A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (2017) and A Song of Home: A Novel of the Swing Era (2018).

What does she have planned after that? More stories, of course. She’s a junkie. She couldn’t quit if she wanted to.


My Impressions:

I have to first say that I haven’t read a book by Susie Finkbeiner that I have not absolutely loved. Her characters are strong and the setting and time come to life with her deft storytelling. Every time I pick up one of her novels, I think that it cannot possibly be as good as the ones I have read before. And every time, the new book becomes my favorite. This is the case with Stories That Bind Us. Oh my goodness, I was caught up in Betty Sweet’s life and stories from the get-go. Probably the best book I have read this year, I highly recommend you read it right now!

Characterization is one of Finkbeiner’s strengths, and in Stories That Bind Us each character is lovingly crafted. There is not one that I didn’t fall in love with — even the difficult ones. If I have to pick a favorite it is, of course, Betty, whose first person voice gives life to her family. Betty tells her tale as it happens, along with reminiscences that flesh out their backstories and illuminate where each character is coming from. While small town LaFontaine in the 1960s is an idyllic place to live, the backdrop of the turbulent decade is a great parallel for the changes going on in Betty’s life. Another favorite character is Hugo, Betty’s nephew who blooms under Betty’s care. I loved that Betty poured herself into Hugo, but never tried to usurp her sister’s place in his life. Betty tells Hugo stories to help him make sense of his life. These stories bind the characters together as well as binding the wounds that each carries. While Betty’s narrative is often gentle and calm, the themes the book explores are jarring to the senses. Race, prejudice, and mental illness are treated realistically and with a touch of grace.

Stories That Bind Us is a thoughtful and thought-provoking novel. The author stated that it was a very personal story for her, and it sure shows. I readily admit to missing LaFontaine, Betty, Hugo, Stan, Marvel, and Nick and Dick, among others. It made me laugh and it made me cry. And it made me glad that I got to read this treasure. After reading Stories That Bind Us, you will want to talk about it, so just go ahead and get someone to go along for the ride. I promise you will love every minute.

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: adults.

(Thanks to Bethany House for a complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)




8 Responses to “Book Review: Stories That Bind Us”

  1. Carla December 29, 2020 at 3:16 pm #

    This sounds like a very good character driven story. I have never read anything by Susie Finkbeiner, but it sounds like I need to change that.

    • rbclibrary December 29, 2020 at 3:21 pm #

      You definitely do!

  2. susiesellnergmailcom December 29, 2020 at 10:21 pm #

    I listened to the book on CD and thought the “performer” did an excellent job. I concur that it was one of the best books of the year!

    • rbclibrary December 30, 2020 at 7:06 am #

      I listened to the audiobook too. It was wonderful.

  3. thebeccafiles January 1, 2021 at 10:47 pm #

    It’s been sitting on my TBR pile for far too long too! I can see it right now giving me the stink eye lol. I REALLY hope I can get to this one soon too!

    • rbclibrary January 3, 2021 at 7:31 am #

      It’s great!

  4. Sue Wendt January 2, 2021 at 7:09 pm #

    This was one of my favorites also. Susie Finkbeiner’s books are so wonderfully crafted. Can’t wait for her next book.

    • rbclibrary January 3, 2021 at 7:32 am #

      Me too!

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