Root, Petal, Thorn

Written by Ella Joy Olsen
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

“Understand there is a little sad in every story.”

Ivy, a recently widowed mother of two, takes that mantra seriously. She lives in a 100-year-old home in Salt Lake City, a home that she and her late husband were lovingly restoring. Finding a relic left by a previous resident, she grows determined to trace the histories of the home’s former occupants over the last century, in part to work through her grief. She discovers four women whose lives, sorrows, joys and stories were woven into the foundation of the home like a tapestry.

There is Lainey, an artist and mother who battled manic depression in the 1960s and 1970s; Eris, a woman of Greek heritage who tried to prevent her son from fighting in WWII; Emmeline, for whom the rose bush on the property was named and who is forced to make a choice between love and religious principles; and Bitsy, who recorded her overwhelming losses in a memory book she shares with Ivy. Ivy’s quest to connect her life with those previous residents is part of her healing process, and she learns that you can’t have roses without the thorns.

Each of the women’s stories is beautifully crafted; Olsen skillfully fleshes out her characters, furnishing them with distinct personalities and fascinating life circumstances. While the voices are multifold, the story flows as one rather than in disjointed parts. The house is as much a character in the book as the women who live and love within its walls. The book tackles themes of grief and courage in the face of loss, but does so in a way that leaves the reader uplifted. In addition to the compelling characters, the true strength of the book is its message of connectedness. This captivating novel is a delight from start to finish.