“The Bookshop of Yesterdays” by Amy Meyerson is part mystery and part drama involving family dynamics. It is a shout out to those who love books and bookstores, since the main mystery is centered around both, and comes about with riddles from book quotes. Clues to the scavengers’ hunt are found in the classics of the past, “The Tempest,” “Jane Eyre,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Frankenstein,” “Fear of Flying,” “Persuasion,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Bridge to Terabithia.”
The story begins with Miranda Brooks’ 12th birthday party. Her beloved Uncle Billy is a no-show, and to make matters worse that night she overhears a fight between him and her mother. She sees Billy only once more and then he cuts himself off from her life. Similar to someone who has lost a loved one she experiences grief, loss and anger. He left her with no explanation. Fast-forward 16 years where Miranda attempts to make a life for herself in Philadelphia teaching history in a middle school.
She finds out Billy has died and the fond memories of their time together sweep over her. He took her to his Los Angeles bookstore Prospero Books, where they would read, solve riddles and have elaborate scavenger hunts full of surprises. After the funeral, Miranda learns she inherited the financially-challenged bookstore and Billy has left her one more scavenger hunt: A quest to provide answers about the mysterious family’s rift that no one wants to speak about.
“My bookstore visually looks a lot like one in Echo Park,” Myerson said. “I borrowed a lot physically from it, but not any of the actual character struggles. I also spoke with some managers of bookstores that helped me to understand how they work. Silverlake, the community in Echo Park, has changed a lot. I wanted to make Prospero Books an earlier relic of the neighborhood that is disappearing.”
“I love books about books,” she added. “I wanted to set a story in a bookstore. The reason for the bookstores’ name, Prospero Books, is because ‘The Tempest’ has a scene where he gains magical powers through books. Also, Billy would take Miranda there as a way to connect with her. Since it was originally his late wife’s, he thought Miranda might also connect to her. I think it was a way for Billy to share his late wife, Evelyn, with Miranda and keep the memory of her alive. I think he tried to explain his life to Miranda through the books in his bookstore and not directly as in a letter. Scavenger hunts were a way Billy communicated. It enabled him to explain his emotions and through the riddles, he was able to talk to Miranda.”
Early on many readers will realize the big family secret. Yet, they will turn the pages to take the journey of the scavenger hunt with Miranda to find out find out how the past family secrets would be revealed. A scene from the book would forewarn readers that the quest is more important than the mystery: “He left her clues meant to impart wisdom and knowledge as well as lead to the reward: Even though I always figured out where the quest was going before we got there, he refused to let me rush through the lesson.”
“I wrote how Suze, Miranda’s mother, realized holding back secrets makes it progressively more difficult to tell the truth,” Myerson said. “I wrote in this book quote, ‘It’s difficult seeing parents for who they are, rather than who we want them to be.’ I wanted to explore the way we can and cannot know our parents. I know I feel this way and I think others do as well. It is hard to fully understand who they were before they became parents. We only know what they chose to tell us and how they chose to tell us.”
This heartfelt debut novel explores loss, healing and family with all the tensions, misunderstandings and estrangements that are sometimes part of it. Books and the bookstore are an added bonus allowing readers to understand the importance of forgiveness.