I’m doing something here which I’m not sure I’ve ever done before– I’m reviewing a book before I’ve finished reading it. My holiday weekend didn’t prove as conducive to reading as I’d hoped, and in the end, I wanted to savor this book.
A Secret Gift is a true story of the Depression and what life was like then. In particular, it’s the story of one man (Sam Stone, Ted Gup’s grandfather), and the lives he touched with one specific act of generosity. These effects are not limited to the immediate recipients of Stone’s gifts– the author traces the families of these individuals, and sees where their lives have gone.
Sam Stone was a man who knew the meaning of Hard Times, but while others were struggling in 1933, he found himself in a fairly secure position. He set out to anonymously offer a small amount of money to 75 people who wrote him. He halved the intended amount and increased the outreach to include 150 checks.
Years after Stone’s death, Ted Gup (an investigative journalist by trade) inherited some of his grandfather’s belongings, including the letters from those that were selected to receive the money. As America hit a new round of Hard Times, he thought back to these letters, and went to investigate, searching public records and talking to the descendants of about 50 of the recipients.
Gup shares the letters with the reader, and tells us what he learned about the recipient and his/her family, usually giving the current situation of the living descendants. He often relates the story of the recipient to that of his grandparents, building a picture of Stone, his family and his town. Gup builds a story of how interrelated everyone in the town was– not just through his grandfather (whose identity as the giver was not revealed until 75 years after the events in question), but through the actions of each resident as well.
Some lives were touched forever by these $5 gifts, in others it doesn’t seem to have been more than a small blip. Some families recovered fully from the Great Depression, others never escaped those depths. All these stories and more are told here.
The author uncovered more than he ever imagined about his grandfather, who had an interesting life and many secrets he kept throughout it.
The stories are told very simply, which allows the power of each one to come through, rather than be buried in words and description. The book hasn’t struck me as sappy, but as a straightforward portrait.
I love the attention to detail and research that Gup displays. I’m staggered by thinking of the amount of time searching through records, talking to descendants, and then correlating all of the above. It’s all laid out in a straightforward, accessible form.
As I said at the beginning, I’m not done yet. In general, I wouldn’t have any trouble finishing a book of this length and complexity in a day, and I’ve spent 3 (I’d allocated 7, but life didn’t cooperate). When it came down to it, I simply didn’t want to push through. I knew if I did, I’d miss out, and I wasn’t willing to do that. I’ll finish in the next day or so. In the unexpected event that my opinion changes significantly, I’ll update this review, and post pointers on Twitter and my blog.
I recommend A Secret Gift for those that like to read about people who make a difference to others and to those that enjoy building a picture of another time. This is a book I’m very glad to be reading, and one that I plan to share with others.
I read this book as part of a tour for TLC Book Tours. Thank you to TLC and the publisher (Penguin Press) for providing me with the copy of A Secret Gift and the opportunity to participate. For more information on A Secret Gift (including the book trailer), see the Penguin Press page or check out the website of your favorite bookstore. For other views on this book, visit the other tour stops:
- Monday, November 15th: Debbie’s Book Bag
- Monday, November 29th: That’s What She Read
- Tuesday, November 30th: Book Reviews by Molly
- Wednesday, December 1st: I’m Booking It
- Monday, December 6th: Care’s Online Book Club
- Wednesday, December 8th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
- Thursday, December 9th: Knowing the Difference
- Monday, December 13th: Rundpinne
- Tuesday, December 14th: In the Next Room
- Wednesday, December 15th: Reading on a Rainy Day
- Thursday, December 16th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews