Title: The Unsinkable Greta James
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Publication Date: March 1, 2022
Sub Genre(s): Contemporary, Family
Summary: Greta James’s meteoric rise to indie stardom was hard-won. Before she graced magazine covers and sold out venues, she spent her girlhood strumming her guitar in the family garage. Her first fan was her mother, Helen, whose face shone bright in the dusty downtown bars where she got her start. But not everyone encouraged Greta to follow her dreams. While many daydream about a crowd chanting their name, her father, Conrad, sees only a precarious life ahead for his daughter.
Greta has spent her life trying to prove him wrong. But three months after Helen’s sudden death, and weeks before the launch of her high-stakes sophomore album, Greta has an onstage meltdown that goes viral. Attempting to outrun the humiliation and heartbreak, she reluctantly agrees to accompany her father on a week-long Alaskan cruise, the very one that her parents had booked to celebrate their fortieth anniversary.
This could be the James family’s last chance to heal old wounds, and will prove to be a voyage of discovery for them, as well as for Ben Wilder, a historian also struggling with a major upheaval in his life. Ben is on board to lecture about Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, the adventure story Greta’s mother adored, and he captures Greta’s attention after her streak of dating hanger-ons. As Greta works to build up her confidence and heal, and Ben confronts his uncertain future, they must rely on one another to make sense of life’s difficult choices. In the end, Greta must make the most challenging decision of all: to listen to the song within her or make peace with those who love her.
What I Liked: This was a lovely, realistic portrayal of grief and familial relationships that had me smiling one scene and tearing up the next. I found Greta to be a sympathetic character, even when she was making decisions that I didn’t agree with or found frustrating. One of the things I liked most about this book was the acknowledgement that everyone grieves differently and that we need to allow people the time and space they need to work through their emotions at their own pace. Greta sees her “meltdown” as weak and potentially career damaging, but it takes the time spent and discussions had with Ben and her dad for her to realize how needed that moment was for her to begin to heal. The relationship Greta has with her dad was heartbreaking and I found myself wishing they could say to each other what they really wanted to without it turning into a fight. But isn’t that how life is? Especially when the parent and child are both adults with their own lives and ways of seeing the world. They love each other but will they ever see eye to eye? I found it touching when Greta would have little moments of worry about her dad getting older even while she was angry with him or feeling like they would never have a good relationship. The relationship between Ben and Greta was cute and it was refreshing to see two adults that treated each other with respect and were open and honest with their feelings. Yes, there were moments of miscommunication and angst but it never falls into unbelievable. I found the ending to be satisfying and even though I would have liked more, I appreciate an author knowing when and how to end a story.
What I Didn’t Like: I would have liked more interactions and conversations between Greta and her dad because the resolution to their storyline seemed a bit rushed. Their issues had been going on since Greta was a teenager so I would have liked to see them communicate more.
Who Should Read It: I think this would be a good book club pick that will lead to great discussions, especially about parent-child relationships. I would be hesitant to recommend this to anyone who has lost a parent without giving them a warning about the content.
Review Wrap Up: Smith has managed to write a beautiful story about the loss of a loved one without making the story overly sad or depressing. It was heartfelt and joyful and left me with hope. I believe this book will end up on a lot of people’s best of lists this year.
Favorite Quote: “Maybe the point isn’t always to make things last…maybe it’s just to make them count.”
*Thank you to Netgalley and Ballatine Books for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review*