A death is never easy, especially not for the husband or children left behind. After Jean Johnston’s death, her husband becomes a distracted workaholic, while 12-year-old Grover and his 10-year-old sister Sudie spend much time on their own at their North Carolina home. For Grover, that means retreating to the quiet of his beloved bamboo grove, where he weaves his tapestries of twigs, vines and leaves. They’re magnificent pieces of art that give Grover solace and meaning, but his father considers them a waste of time.

As their father spends more time with his work at the floundering Thomas Wolfe Memorial site, he doesn’t have time to get close to his family—or acknowledge his grief. The kids become more involved with the mountain family that has moved in nearby, a relationship that brings its own share of problems and distractions. Throw in some local politics, prejudice, budding romances, family tugs-of-war and an odd man who seems to linger everywhere, and you have a penetrating and complex story of loss and, ultimately, the rebuilding of a family.

Tommy Hays’ first middle grade novel, What I Came to Tell You, is a thoughtful, tender look at a family devastated by grief. Through a turn of events not entirely predictable—involving the truth about his mother’s accident—Grover becomes an unexpected savior to his family.

The book’s title refers to an epiphany presented to Grover at the end of the story, one that leads him to realize that “sometimes things just happen.” Only then is he is able to change his point of view and come to terms with his family—now on the road to healing.

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