Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed

When betrayal comes full circle 

Tomorrow, Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed hits the shelves. I received an ARC of this book to review after much back and forth with the publisher (why, oh why does mail always take so long to get to me?) Was it worth the wait? I answer with a resounding "Yes!"

The book in one sentence: A study of a woman's journey through loss, betrayal, childhood revelations, and forgiveness and redemption.

My thoughts: When I first held this book, for some odd reason, the cover doesn't do anything for me. For one, those red letters look creepy. Then when I read the back blurb that it featured the story of a has-been country singer with a dog named Detour, I was having second thoughts. One, anything country (especially country music) isn't really my thing. And then the main character is nursing a broken heart. (This screams stereotype! Er, does Crazy Heart ring a bell?) And a dog named Detour, are you kidding me?

Once I started through, I found that this is definitely not your stereotypical country sob story. I'm glad that I gave this book a second chance because this is a very special read.

The story seems simple enough. Annie Walsh was once a famous country singer, having found her voice and gained fame when she fell in love with her muse - Owen. Basking in their seemingly perfect love, she is in total shock when she returns home one day and discovers the ultimate betrayal. Heartbroken, Annie seems to lose herself, and she abandons singing and songwriting.

Still trying to pick up the pieces of her life, her brother Calder reenters her life. With Calder being an unfortunate party to Owen's cover up of his dalliance, Annie resists Calder. This starts off a series of strange events and she learns that Calder is implicated in the murder of the husband of his then-lover.

One part of Annie - the deepest part of of her childhood self - believes his innocence, yet another part remains vindictive. She turns to family members for answers and reassurance - her mother and her Uncle Calder.

As the story unfolds, details of Annie's and Calder's childhood come to light: the fights, their encounters with a pair of bully brothers, a childhood sweetheart, and unbreakable sibling bonds. A complicated and intriguing web of sub-plots emerge, highlighting how family relationships play out in these characters' lives in the past and in the present. Reed could have easily regressed into cliche and stereotype, but she examines family loyalties, familial love, betrayal, and forgiveness - in all its embarrassing rawness - without apology.

The ending seemed anticlimactic to me. But with the heavy emotion throughout the book, the ending was a respite and well-deserved.

Although this starts out slowly, I loved the slow pace as it allowed me to get to know and understand the characters. Annie is a lovable character - imperfect and emotional, she grows on you. I was especially fascinated with the love story of Annie's parents, and I fell in love with Annie's father Kearney. Uncle Calder - he is someone who creeps up on you and I wanted to know more about what made him tick.

The special way Reed melds past and present in a seamless and beautiful way is outstanding. It is not jarring - the past informs the present, the present looks back on the past. Like the layers of an onion slowly slipping away, the characters' emotions and motivations are laid bare.

Reed's prose is beautiful. I am in awe at how she manages to convey the mood and emotion of her characters, particularly in their moments of vulnerability.
"I came back home after that trip and felt like I was trapped on an island where all the things I needed to keep me alive didn't exist," he said. (p. 110)
For the first time in her life she understood how things could be something other than what they seemed, the opposite even of what a person believed in. Suddenly the whole world was exposed as a lie, the wizard's curtain pulled back to reveal the barbeque and the storm, the family get-together and the music she was about to play, all made up of layers and layers of something else. There was more to this story. Even her whole body was splitting apart on the inside, going straight from a girl to a woman, while standing there looking to all the world like a child. (p. 127)
Verdict: A beautifully sensitive examination of family dynamics for those who love a good story of love, betrayal and redemption.

An odd recommendation, maybe, but good for (1) those who love the dishing of family dirt - lots of drama in this one but wonderfully done; and (2) those who have an affinity for the stereotype country sob stories - prepare for the stereotype to be derailed!

First line: Out past the cornfield, a lime-colored pickup idles in the fog of Mrs. Lanie's tangelo grove.

Last line: Days just like this, with music layered through the smell of cooked meat and bread and cake, the nuts and berries growing outside the door, his parents laughing around a farm table ... [cut because of a spoiler!]

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Care to read a few pages of Reed's amazing writing? Check it out here.


  1. kath! thanks :) i;m also on FB, if you want to add that to your feed :)

  2. This is a lovely review. I usually get sent all of the reviews of my books but this one somehow escaped me. Thank you for taking the time to write such an insightful take on the novel.
    You might be happy to learn that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has taken over the paperback rights and will be rereleasing the novel on Janyuary 3, 2012 with a brand new cover! You can see it on the amazon page if you click on the tiny + sign next to "paperback." The book will be far more available through HMH than it is now in paperback.
    Thanks again.
    All best to you, and happy reading!
    Deborah Reed

    ps. if you want to email and let me know what you think of the new cover you can drop me a line at

  3. Hi Deborah! Thanks for writing such a terrific book. Glad to see the cover changed - the blues and greens and general ambiance seems so much more apt! All the best - and good luck with your new endeavours!


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