I was privileged to receive a free review copy of The Simple Soul of Susan by Noel Branham in the fall of last year. At that point I already knew I was falling behind on reviews, but I said yes because I just loved the idea of the story. And I’m so very glad I did!
Susan Combs had long ago found the love of her life. The only problem was the other party still didn’t know he had been found.
Every day Susan saw Calder Hurtz, her next door neighbor and childhood best friend. They always enjoyed the short drive to school down the dusty streets of their small Texas town. She was happy in those perfect moments, for her life at home was most imperfect. The challenging homestead she inhabited was also the favorite subject of local gossip.
But one autumn day she overhears Calder and another boy having a conversation. This occasion of accidental audience sets Susan’s life on an unforeseen path. In the seasons to come, her future will be changed by two hospitalizations, two confessions of love, and one betrayal.
Compulsively readable, The Simple Soul of Susan is an engaging, soul-endearing romance and a mesmerizing debut.
The books spans a several-year time period, going season by season, which was a really interesting way to structure it. So many books focus on a much narrower time-frame, but this really enabled the author to develop the characters. The reader has the opportunity to see Susan and Calder grow up, and deal with the corresponding life transitions. Refreshingly, no character is perfect; even Susan has her faults and the author doesn’t hide them or rationalize them away. Rather, the book tells a real coming-of-age story as we watch Susan and Calder stumble along their respective paths as they discern where they’re headed in life.
I remember talking to a therapist years ago about something that had happened when I was 18 and her telling me to “forgive the children” who were involved in the incident. At the time, I was furious: how dare she call me a child?!? After all, I met my husband when I was 18 – I was a GROWN UP!!! We see Susan struggle with that dichotomy throughout the course of the book, and reading it helped me to judge my adolescent self a little less harshly and be more willing to see adolescence for what it is: a time of incredible growth and turmoil, with a lot of lessons to be learned along the way. (Of course, much of that holds true for adulthood as well…)
Despite enjoying the length of time the book spans, I did at times feel like the book was longer than it needed to be. I can’t tell you what I’d cut out because it all feels essential, it was more of just a feeling I had from time to time while I was reading it.
That said, I highly recommend the book and I think it’s a solid debut novel. I’d love to read more of Noel Branham’s work in the future.