For starters: that cover! It spoke to me immediately. But what is beneath the beautiful artwork is equally delightful. While I have enjoyed all of Sonja Yoerg’s novels, TRUE PLACES has to be my favorite, with its juxtaposition of nature and affluent suburban living.

If you enjoy book club and upmarket women’s fiction in contemporary settings – and family drama, replete with difficult teens – this book is a must. The prose is assured and lovely, and where Yoerg shines the most, I think, is in her descriptions of the natural world.

The foothills tumbled gently down to the valley floor, an undulating expanse, farmland and wood, hazy through lingering mist, still and mute.

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The colors harmonized within her, melting together like a lazy babble of a stream, the flutter of the wind in the trees, and the excited warble of a bunting.

The author’s adoration of the natural world (and subsequent background in biological psychology/animal behavior) as well as her belief in nature’s healing balm spills on to the pages through the characters of Suzanne and especially Iris, an exceptional teenager, whom I loved from the very first pages.

I was impressed by Yoerg’s ability to show us, through Iris’s eyes, how little sense traditional society might make to someone ‘new’ to it. From Iris:

People. People want to know things about you. People want you to follow rules. People put chemicals in the water, and ruin good food and hurt animals and waste things that are precious. People won’t let you live a simple, good life.” She faced him. “I don’t need people, and I don’t want them.”

TRUE PLACES by Sonia Yoerg spoke to me loudest in the questions its poses about materialism, overabundance in our society, and the remoteness so many have from the natural world today (as well as the devastating emotional consequences of that removal from outdoor exposure). And, in that sense, I found the character of Iris in this book, and the character of Kya in the recently published Where the Crawdads Sing, to have interesting parallels. While they’re markedly different books, they share thematic similarity regarding commune with nature, and subtle overtones that point out man’s sprawl and historic lack of thought in altering the natural terrain.

This book also includes botanical themes (I loved learning about Hydnora and herbalism), and even the name Iris has its own thematic ties – not only to botany, but also to Greek mythology. While the novel covers topics related to parenting and the busyness of today’s lifestyles, it also begs readers for introspection at their own choices.

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(A version of this review of TRUE PLACES by Sonia Yoerg was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on Aug 18, 2018.  It is reposted here with the permission of the reviewer.)

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