Friday, June 26, 2020

Book Review - The Key to Everything by Valerie Fraser Luesse

My Review
The Key to Everything is a historical novel that begins in 1947 Savannah.  Peyton Cabot is 15 years old when a family tragedy prompts him to retrace his father's long ago bicycle ride from Savannah to Key West.  Over the summer trip he discovers his dreams, a sense of family, and first love.

I wanted to read The Key to Everything because I am originally from Savannah and was intrigued by the setting.  I also love vintage Florida and was curious about that aspect of the novel.

This novel is such a lovely, leisurely road trip!  Peyton is such a likable, kind-hearted young man and I enjoyed his pursuit of an unlikely dream - to travel to Key West on bicycle.  My father was just a little older than Peyton during this time period and I found the novel particularly interesting because of this connection.

The details of life in Savannah and vintage Florida (especially St. Augustine and Key West) were lovely.  The author does a beautiful job at evoking another time and place, with passages like:

"St. Augustine was a marvel. Peyton had grown up around historic architecture in Savannah, but this place was seriously old. Everywhere, you could see remnants of Spanish buildings— and others still intact and in use. Tourists swarmed the centuries-old fort on the waterfront. He picked up a map in a candy shop, where he couldn’t resist the aroma of chocolate, and wandered cobblestone streets while he nibbled on fudge. Eventually, he made his way to the Ponce de Leon, a grand hotel built by the man who had dreamed up the railroad to Key West. It looked like something out of Arabian Nights." (Kindle location 1242)

The coming of age aspect of this book and the iconic nature of Peyton's journey (and his father's journey years ago) was so moving.  This passage encapsulates the family legend:

"The boys listened as their Uncle Gil retold his favorite story, the same one he told at every spring picnic. 'Marshall says to me, he says, ‘I believe I’ve seen all this ol’ camp has to offer.’ And I says, ‘What you plan on doin’ about it ?’ That’s when he pointed at the bicycles Papa had left for us. He says, ‘I’m gonna ride my bicycle to Key West and see what those islands look like.' The cousins finished the story with their uncle, repeating his favorite line in unison: 'And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last time Marshall Cabot ever let anybody tell him what to do.'" (Kindle location 120).

I truly enjoyed The Key to Everything and recommend it highly for fans of historical fiction, southern fiction, and for anyone interested in life in Georgia and Florida during the 1940's.  

Book Synopsis
"Promise me you'll never come back here, Peyton. It's too much--it's just way too much."

Peyton Cabot's fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the heroic but reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from World War II a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon and distancing himself from his son. A tragic accident shows Peyton the depths of his parents' devotion to each other but interrupts his own budding romance with the girl of his dreams.

Struggling to cope with a young life upended, Peyton makes a daring decision: He will retrace a journey his father took at fifteen, riding his bicycle from St. Augustine, Florida, all the way to Key West. Part declaration of independence, part search for self, Peyton's journey will bring him more than he ever could have imagined--namely, the key to his unknowable father, a longed-for reunion, and a calling that will shape the rest of his life.

Author Bio
Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of the Christy Award-winning Missing Isaac and Almost Home, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. A graduate of Auburn University and Baylor University, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave.

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