Published by Blank Slate Press on April 28th 2015
(280 pages) • Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble
A girl, a guy, a broken-down house. Not exactly on-again, off-again, Malcolm and Joanna are in-again, out-again: in love, out of each other’s arms, in an awkward co-living arrangement, out of the country. Their unconventional relationship is the only way, Joanna says, to protect herself from the specter of commitment, which inevitably leads to heartbreak.
"When Harry Met Sally" for the Millennial generation, set in the damp and drizzly neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, Broken Homes and Gardens is an ode to friendship, lust, and the unrelenting pull of love.
This book was such a pleasant surprise! I’ve never seen the movie When Harry Met Sally – I know, shame on me – but judging from the plot I read online, this book does a pretty good job of lining up with that! Joanna and Malcolm are two longtime friends who spend years dancing around the fact that they should probably stop being dummies and get together.
The story was incredibly quiet and character-driven, which I couldn’t help but enjoy. Looking back on the actual plot, not much happens – but not in a bad way at all. I like reading stories where the characters feel real and are just kind of going through their regular lives. There weren’t huge areas of drama or angst, which was refreshing. I loved Joanna and found myself relating to her a lot. She struggled with what to do for a career and never felt like she was good enough in any one area to make a career of it. She constantly referenced people’s lives in movies and the whole book had that kind of dreamy I-wish-my-life-was-like-that way. I don’t know how to explain it, but I think this would be a wonderful rom com movie.
I loved Malcolm and shipped them from the start. I could see the chemistry from the very first night and Joanna’s reservations about ruining their friendship were pretty silly to me. They were on-and-off friends over the years – living together, writing back and forth long distance, not speaking… I wanted them to get together finally! I’m not sure how When Harry Met Sally ended, and I won’t spoil the ending of this one, but I was very happy with it.
I’ve never been to Portland, but the setting is important to the story. I would have liked a bit more description of the city besides the rain. Overall, though, I feel like I could picture her house and yard perfectly.
My biggest wish is a bit more information about what happened before the story started. I wanted even more background on some of the issues Joanna brought up throughout the book: stuff with her mom, her former teaching job, her dad and stepmom, etc. Some things from the past were referenced enough to the point that they needed more fleshing out, instead of a passing comment or two. I also would have liked a bit more at the ending.
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About the Author: Rebecca Kelley is the author of Broken Homes and Gardens and co-author of The Eco-nomical Baby Guide. She has taught writing at Oregon College of Art & Craft for nine years. Her work is infused with the sensibilities of the young creative class that uses the Pacific Northwest as its way station for earnest, well-meaning adventuring to the world at large. At home, her fiction turns to the quiet dramas of urban domestic life: growing tomatoes, making pancakes, examining the nature and validity of love and marriage in the context of our modern world. Rebecca’s work has appeared in Scholastic Parent and Child, Metro Parent, Stealing Time magazine, Propeller, and xoJane. She lives in northeast Portland with her husband and daughter. Website | Twitter