Not your typical coming of age story
Have you ever had a book that just sticks with you? Where the characters and scenes haunt the empty spaces in your head as you go about your day-to-day? Well, this is one of those books. The story, the characters, the feelings both of those evoke – they stay with you, like a tether, calling your memory back to the prose and delivery. I feel like I am still processing the emotions; the embers of hope, sadness, and closure still smoldering in the back of my mind. This is one of those special books that don’t come around very often, and I am so honored to have been able to read it.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of this book directly from the author, Blake R. Wolfe in exchange for an honest review. This will be a long review, and it still won’t have enough words to do the book justice.
Jonathan’s Letter is not your typical coming of age story. Blake R. Wolfe transports you through an emotional journey filled with curiosity, worry, laughter, and tears (so many tears). We follow Ryan, a man reflecting on his past while facing the all-too-relatable struggles in the present, all the while endlessly fighting to figure out who he is in the world. A mix of joyous and painful memories of his close childhood friends and relationship with his family paint a complex backdrop to this beautifully written book. Throughout all of his trials and tribulations, including addiction and abuse, there are undertones of hope and redemption, and a perpetual grasping for understanding and acceptance.
Wolfe touches upon sensitive topics without making it exploitative, leaving the reader no option but to experience the self-discovery and subsequent traumas alongside Ryan and his friends. In the process, we grow with him, and I would like to think, make connections between our own experiences and self-doubt throughout our formative years and beyond. We all struggle with finding our place in life, some more than others. Wolfe explores the myriad of paths one can take to discovering themselves, acknowledging that it’s not only dependent on a single factor, but facets such as upbringing and friendships along the way. There is a beautiful agony in Wolfe’s writing, a crossroad of yearning for answers and a desire to suffocate oneself. Jonathan’s Letter is a delicate dichotomy of acceptance and denial – the need to have self-preservation versus the want to be happy and free.
I will be honest, this book emotionally ravaged me. While I do not share the same experiences as Ryan, his struggles and drive to both suppress and accept his identity are relatable, albeit heartbreaking. At times, reading this book felt almost too-intimate; each nugget of Ryan’s angst, confusion, rage, and all of the emotions in-between is exposed under a magnifying glass. Seeing a life, flayed open and clawing to pull itself back together, is not something that is easy to read, let alone write. Wolfe tackles this flawlessly, pushing you just to the brink, but in such a way that without it, the story wouldn’t be complete, nor would Ryan be such an incredible and honest character.
Blake R. Wolfe has this remarkable ability to create an intricate tapestry of emotion and experience for his characters. While the story mainly focuses around Ryan and his innate need to come to terms with his identity, each character, no matter how minor, is treated with the same care and detail. Because of their depth and connection to how Ryan views himself, it is impossible not to feel close to every person involved in his life. Following his rag-tag group of friends from their pre-teen years and into adulthood is reminiscent of so many classic films and books of the 80’s and 90’s, and Wolfe extracts the best parts of that nostalgia and sprinkles them into this book perfectly.
While very emotionally heavy-handed, there is impeccably placed comedic relief to break the inevitable holding of breath that comes while reading a book like this. While abuse, addiction, and assault are addressed, they are met with strong bonds of friendship, therapy, and love.
Blake R. Wolfe shows that not all journeys are equal, and that sometimes it’s the passing of little moments, that second guessing that comes from youth, or those snap decisions in haste or anger that change our course ever so slightly, can turn our lives upside-down and send us careening down a different route entirely. Those moments, however fleeting in our lives and in our naivety, can drive us to madness. Jonathan’s Letter takes those moments and shines a light on them, showing that from madness, you can find solace, closure…and maybe even yourself.