You should read this heartfelt and authentic debut novel!

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laurenwtravis Avatar


I was so impressed by this debut effort from Cat Shook. If We’re Being Honest is a heartfelt, moving, and realistically portrayed story of an extended family reuniting in Southern Georgia after the death of the family patriarch.

As a Southerner, I was hesitant to read this book set in the South for fear it would portray my home in the way books often do—that is to say, filled with caricatures instead of real characters. I was pleased to find this novel filled with some of the most realistic and detailed personalities I’ve read about in a long time. Not only were the depictions of middle-aged and older Southerners spot on, but the author wrote the Millennial (Gen Z?) characters with clarity and authenticity. The detail put into each of these characters made the story feel so real to me, and I saw many parallels to my own youth (i.e. driving around in their dad’s truck, walking a dirt road to the swimming hole, not cursing in front of their grandmother, etc.). Further, the way the younger generation worried about how their lifestyle choices would be perceived and judged by their elder family members was both 1) sadly accurate and 2) poignantly written.

The real soul of this book is found in the way the author depicts each character’s struggle with grief. They each process the loss of their father/grandfather differently, but they all have to (in their own way) confront their feelings about him and reckon with how his death impacts their personal identity. Shook explores these internal battles with nuance, care, and credibility.

I enjoyed the third person limited narration and I think it allowed the story to move through each character pretty seamlessly. It allowed the reader to put themselves in the place of each of the many (admittedly, maybe slightly too many) family members. My one complaint is that I wish the chapters were shorter. I don’t need a book to have five page chapters, but these chapters are incredibly long and I think the reader would benefit from the brief reset of a new chapter in certain places.

I am so glad to have received an ARC of If We’re Being Honest through Celadon Books and BookishFirst because I’m not sure I would have come across it otherwise. I hope others get to experience the joy of reading this gem for themselves!