Trying to write a review for this book over a year after I read it (yes, my fault - I blame pregnancy brain) and I honestly don't remember a lot about it even after reading the synopsis. Which maybe is a bit of a review on it's own that this book was just "okay"? I loved "Saving Ruby King" and I know I enjoyed this enough in the moment, so I'll definitely still be reading the next book by Catherine Adel West.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you so much for this beautiful book! Charismatic, powerful and important. Thanks for the advance copy.
If you’ve read Catherine Adel West’s debut, Saving Ruby King, you’ll remember Sara, a character introduced in that book. I knew after that introduction she had a story to tell, and I’m grateful to the author for giving Sara a voice.
About the book: “A young mother finds refuge and friendship at a boardinghouse in 1960s Memphis, Tennessee, where family encompasses more than just blood and hidden truths can bury you or set you free.”
Sara’s life is split between her time in Chicago and then after she feels to Memphis during the 1960s with a new baby in tow. She’s hoping to find peace, but unfortunately she discovers more pain and anguish. The 1960s backdrop adds a richness to the story, but so does Sara. The force that is Sara King and all she has to overcome; all she endlessly tries to get to the other side of. The found family and intergenerational trauma themes were addressed so thoughtfully.
Filled with lovingly drawn, bold characters and beautiful writing, The Two Lives of Sara is not an “easy” read, but it is a poignant one. I cant’ wait for what’s next by this skilled and talented author.
I received a gifted copy.
I loved Saving Ruby King and I've been wanting to read this one for a long time.....I'm not at all sure why it took me so long to get to. I saw somewhere that this was intended to be the prequel to Saving Ruby King, and it definitely seems to be even though there is not a ton of marketing in that direction. I have a horrible memory for books, and even though I remember several of the plot points from Saving Ruby King because it was so memorable, I could not find decent summaries anywhere to help place the characters of this book into the context I remember from the last book. This one is just as heartbreaking and difficult to read at times. I do wish that the book didn't end on such a downer, because the heaviness of the book is what the reader is left with and there is very little hope in the end. My book club will be discussing soon, and I think there is so much to discuss.
Great characters, beautiful writing and interesting story! I thought this was a great book! The ending definitely came too soon!
I love Catherine Adel West, but I liked the book Saving Ruby King a lot more than this one. I did enjoy it though.
I started this and it felt so slow - nothing like her previous novel. I tried to continue but this one wasn't for me.
This was a very difficult book to read. It was sad and depressing. But it was beautifully written and I loved how flawed Sara was. But this is not a happy book.
This book so was not for me. It's getting rave reviews and I'm happy other people enjoyed it, but there was almost nothing I liked about it. I very strongly disliked Sara and her relationship with her son literally made my stomach hurt. How that whole situation played out with her partner just made me end up disliking her even more.
Mama Sugar was maybe the only redeeming part of this novel. She was strong, inspirational, and no nonsense. She was dealt a tough hand and rather than complain about it, she was grateful for what she had and did what she could to help others.
I listened to this novel on audio and it was well done.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy of this novel.
The Two Lives of Sara was a intriguing and interesting read. For me it started off a little slow but as I kept reading I got sucked into Sara’s world. It was like Sara really couldn’t catch a break for anything. This book digs deeply into generational trauma, addiction, abuse, love and grief. Overall The Two Lives of Sara is really a well-written story with well-developed characters though.
Thank you to the author and publisher for providing me with a digital ARC of this tile via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
This was my first book by Catherine Adel West. I was drawn in by the beautiful cover and found the story premise to be interesting. I am quite glad I took the opportunity to read this title. I really enjoyed this read; Interesting characters with a lot of depth and a storyline that instantly grabbed my attention and held it all the way through.
I was really excited to read this book since it had an Alabama setting. However, I could not bring myself to like the main character. She was not a nice person and was very selfish. The read was also very depressing and slow. I absolutely hated the ending. The writing has very beautiful image and was meticulously researched. However, I wish that the main character was very likable and had a better ending. Still, I recommend this for fans of Someday, Maybe, The Thread Collectors, and The Attic Child!
I had high hopes for this book because I had read great reviews for the sister book that Catherine Adel West wrote before this. I enjoyed the story, but the ending really bothered me. It makes me sad that I spend the time to read it only to be disappointed when I finished. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
I’m seeing this novel feature on many of the best of 2022 books lists, and I agree it belongs right there.
Set in the 1960s, Sara King leaves Chicago for Memphis with a baby she’s still learning to love, hoping to leave behind the hard truth of her life. She finds new family in a rough and tumble guest house run by the formidable Mama Sugar and finds fleeting happiness.
But life is tough, and although she’s tough and determined not to be taken advantage of, nothing is easy for Sara.
The reader is taken on a journey from sad to uplifting, to heart-wrenching, and back.
The author, Catherine Adel West captures the joy and pain of living as a black woman in that moment in the 1960s — the time of Martin Luther King and an uprising of black music that infuses many scenes.
The Two Lives of Sara is an emotional ride full of insights into black history, survival, strength, sorrow and heartbreak.
Emotional, fascinating, and heart-breaking. The Two Lives of Sara will stay with me for years.
A book that can be read either with RUBY KING or as a standalone, The Two Lives of Sara is the story of a search for self and love that ends in disaster. I rooted so hard for Sara, and her story broke my heart. Set in the south in the 50s, Sara has relocated to get away from family trauma with her young son. In the boarding house where she lives, her found-family wants to take care of her. She also finds love, but can she keep it long term?
A beautiful historical fiction, best read with a box of kleenex handy
Memphis, early 1960s. Sara King lives and works at a boarding house—a refuge for her wounded soul—owned by the indomitable Mama Sugar. Sara is a strong but damaged young mother, reluctant to show love even to the son she recently gave birth to, but as the novel progresses, her hard edges mellow through her recognition of a fierce protective affection for Mama Sugar’s grandson, who she escorts to and from school. It is there she meets Jonas Coulter, teacher, photographer and amateur poet, who can see only good in her. As she opens her heart to discover love for her son and her newfound family, romance blossoms despite some misgivings, but at the height of their happiness the couple is thwarted by tragedy arising from Mama Sugar’s past.
The Two Lives of Sara is a portrait of Black life during the Kennedy Administration, and an ode to love in its many manifestations. It is a time when racial tension ran high and talk of equality was cheap. The author writes an unflinching portrayal of how being Black makes you different in a world where the colour of your skin robs you of value. Sara’s backstory is woven sympathetically through the tapestry of everydayness at the boarding house; music and food are strong themes; characters are diverse and intriguing. When Sara’s world is upended, she forsakes all those who love her, but finds the strength to readdress her past and to make unexpected choices, leaving the novel on a contemplative note. West’s illustration of how our experiences continually reshape us resonates deeply as we share Sara’s road to redemption and forgiveness. A poignant and moving story which gives readers a solid glimpse into the racial reality of the times.
This book is great! Would definitely recommend. Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
Sara King is prickly and keeps things close to her chest. She is not one to show love and affection easily and it is clear from the beginning that she has been through hell. As the reader gets to know this young mother and her baby, Lebanon, we learn that she came to Memphis from Chicago after an abrupt departure. The reason for her leaving and the history that haunts her unfolds throughout her story. She is a hard one to love, but a character that you root for. When things are going good for her, it feels so good, but when things turn south, it shatters your heart. I was so invested in her and I am not exaggerating when I say that I feel emotionally burnt out from this rollercoaster of a book. Sara tries to outrun her past and reckon with the person she was before and after her child, Lebanon. What mother cannot relate to that?
The Two Lives of Sara is a prequel to West's knockout debut novel, Saving Ruby King. To be honest, I did not put two and two together, but after reading my past review, I realized the connections. Both stories delve deeply into generational trauma, addiction, abuse, love and grief.
There are a few content warnings to be aware of, including, sexual abuse, addiction, death, miscarriage, and neglect.
In 1960s Memphis, a young mother finds refuge in a boardinghouse. Sara King has nothing except her secrets and the baby in her belly, but she is welcomed with open arms by Mama Sugar, a kindly matriarch and owner of the popular boardinghouse The Scarlet Poplar.
Like many cities in early 1960s America, Memphis is still segregated, but change is in the air. News spreads of the Freedom Riders. Across the country, people like Martin Luther King Jr. are leading the fight for equal rights. Black literature and music provide the stories and soundtrack for these turbulent and hopeful times, and Sara finds herself drawn in by conversations of education, politics and a brighter tomorrow with Jonas, a local schoolteacher. Romance blooms between them, but secrets from Mama Sugar’s past threaten their newfound happiness and lead Sara to make decisions that will reshape the rest of their lives.
A disclaimer for this one- even though this is the prequel, I think it works best if you read this one AFTER you read Saving Ruby King. We don’t get to know a ton about Sara’s backstory and why she’s running in this one, and it helped me understand her as a character having known her backstory.
Right away, you can tell Sara has a complicated relationship with her son Lebanon. She is very guarded and not one to let people in, but the people she meets at the boardinghouse are so welcoming, she can’t help but thaw. You’ve got this story about two complicated and strong women set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement- i love that the author was able to incorporate current events of the time.
The writing in this book is outstanding- I recommend the audio, because the narrator Adenrele Ojo really brings the characters to life, but i liked having a hardcopy too to highlight.
This is a bittersweet story about Friendship and making tough choices, and what happens when you have no choice but to carry on. I really enjoyed it.
The Two Lives of Sara is *almost* a prequel to Saving Ruby King. I'm not suggesting reading Saving Ruby King first but it does help to understand this book better.
Now, on to the quick rundown: Sara moves to Memphis to make a new life with her baby. Although she has created a new family with her new community, happiness doesn't last long for Sara. She is forced to make decisions that affect her and her son forever.
This book is mostly about family. Family doesn't have to be blood related; family is who loves you and chooses you. Sara tried to move on from her past, but in the end, secrets and resentment showed its ugly head.