by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
I knew I wanted to read Steven Rowley's The Guncle (Amazon | Bookshop.org) from the first moment it came out, but it turned out to be much more than I expected. I loved Patrick from the moment the book began, and I quickly came to appreciate and empathize with his perspective on his niece and nephew, both of whom he adores but whom he's never had to care for in any central way. When their mom, his beloved friend and his brother's wife, dies of cancer, his brother Greg reveals his own struggles that developed during his illness, admitting he has a drug problem and needs to go to rehab. This crisis results in Patrick, the reclusive former TV star living in southern California, becoming his niece and nephew's primary caretaker.
As Patrick tries to find his way forward with his niece and nephew, Maisie and Grant, he comes to understand that he needs to find his own way through the grief he continues to experience years after the loss of his beloved Joe. As he struggles to share treasured memories of their mother with them and to share what he knows about how it feels to lose someone, he uncovers his own buried unresolved grief.
“Grief orbits the heart. Some days the circle is greater. Those are the good days. You have room to move and dance and breathe. Some days the circle is tighter. Those are the hard ones.”
Through his time with Maisie and Grant that summer, Patrick comes to realize that he has been living an insulated life in the years since Joe's death, protecting himself from the danger of opening up and potentially experiencing loss again. Through his experiences during his summer with his niece and nephew, he comes to see that they are not the only ones who need to find a way to carry their grief so that they can move forward in their lives.
This book is hilarious but also tender and at times heartbreaking, all in the best ways. I found Patrick's willingness to openly discuss the struggles of parenting young children so refreshing, and I appreciated his approach to being the guardian of Maisie and Grant.
Along the way, the whole family learns so very much about each other and themselves, and although they continue to grieve their losses, they find a way to move forward by leaning on each other rather than remaining stuck in time. They also learn to embrace who they each are and to celebrate that uniqueness as something to treasure. This one is so beautiful, moving, and laugh out loud funny, and I can't recommend it enough!
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