Blog Tour Review: With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt

I’m back with another Algonquin blog tour and this time it’s for With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt. Thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Goodreads: With or Without You
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: 04 August 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction
Panda Rating:

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.
After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.

“Any moment, something amazing can happen.”

This was a very bittersweet and deeply emotional book about love, loyalty, the choices we make in life and ultimately, about growth, change and finding yourself. It’s definitely not the happiest of reads and from the beginning there is a heavy sadness that permeates the writing of the story; yet at the same time, following the chaos, there’s a sense of hope that builds. I’m not ashamed to admit that the latter half of this story had me feeling quite weepy and emotional, and it was pretty cathartic.

I had a love/hate relationship with the characters because they’re all so deeply flawed but as we learn more about them, I also felt so much empathy for them. At one point I found myself feeling so frustrated that I didn’t know if I wanted to continue, not to mention that I was feeling anxious for the heartbreak I knew was just around the corner, but I’m so glad that I kept on reading.

“I want you to know there are no right answers. I want you to know that we’re all on loan to one another, and whatever we get, we should be grateful for, because at any minute we can lose another person. We should try to remember every experience.”

Leavitt has written such well formed and realistic characters that you can’t help connecting with. I felt the punch in my gut seeing them making these heartbreaking mistakes, I felt the confusion they felt in dealing with the aftermath of such a life-altering incident, but I also felt (sometimes a begrudging) sense of happiness at seeing them realise what brings them fulfilment and watching them pursue it. There is a cheating/infidelity storyline that was honestly pretty difficult for me to get through because of personal experience, but while I don’t agree with what the characters did, I also found myself not hating them as much as I thought I would (weird because that usually never happens lol).

These are people who have allowed their pasts to dictate their future and who have become too comfortable in the “mess” of their lives. But they prove that it’s never too late to find your way, to understand what you want and need, and to pursue that happiness. I loved that this ended up being more hopeful than I expected while still having a realistic ending that wasn’t 100% perfect sunshine and rainbows. It was very much a work in progress, such as life itself.

Listen’, she would whisper to him. ‘Nothing and no one stays still or stays the same. Everything and everyone changes. We all have multitudes inside of us, each of them young with hope.’

With or Without You was a beautifully written and thought-provoking read and I’m so glad that I got the chance to experience it. If you enjoy reading about flawed characters who are simply trying to navigate their way through this messy thing we call life, then I’m sure you will enjoy this book. It’s not a conventional HEA but it’s definitely a hopeful beginning again. This was my first book by Leavitt but it certainly won’t be my last and I’m already looking forward to reading her past works after this.

© Jeff Tamarkin

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Cruel Beautiful World (out in paperback August 8th! 2017) s This Tomorrow and Pictures of You (Algonquin Books), which. Pictures of You was on the Best Books of the Year lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, The Providence Journal, Bookmarks and Kirkus Reviews. It was also a Costco Pennie’s Pick. Is This Tomorrow was long listed for the Main Readers Prize, a WNBA Reading group Choice, A San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick/Editor’s Choice, a Jewish Book Club Pic and the winner of an Audiofile Earphones Award.
The winner of a New York Foundation of the Arts Grant, a second prize winner in Goldenberg Fiction Prize, A Sundance Screenwriting Lab Finalist, a Nickelodeon Screenwriting Fellowship Finalist and a National Magazine Award Nominee, Leavitt is a senior writing instructor at UCLA and Stanford online and a freelance manuscript consultant. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Psychology Today, Salon,More, and more. She has been featured on The Today Show and profiled in the New York Times.

Website | Blog | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook

Bonus: Because I can’t see this title without the song automatically playing in my head, I thought I would add it to my review (the singing actually starts at 0:39):

Have you read With or Without You or is it on your TBR?

14 thoughts on “Blog Tour Review: With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt

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