What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hays:
A Guest Review by Steve Cushman
Asheville author Tommy Hays’ first middle grade novel, What I Came to Tell You is sure to touch the hearts of readers young and old alike. The novel follows Grover Johnston, a 12-year-old Asheville boy, as he tries to come to terms with the loss of his mother 6 months earlier.
After her death, Grover retreats into the bamboo forest near his house and creates beautiful weavings, or tapestries, out of bamboo and leaves and branches and anything else he can find. While Grover retreats into the woods, his father spends more and more time at work, managing the failing Thomas Wolfe house and essentially leaving Grover and his 10-year-old sister, Sudie, to fend for themselves.
If things weren’t difficult enough for the Johnstons, it looks as though one local man’s greed may take away the very things that are keeping them going--the bamboo forest and the Thomas Wolfe house. But over the course of a few months, the Asheville community along with new neighbors, the Roundtrees, who are recovering from their own loss, help put Grover and his family on the path to healing and loving each other again.
The novel is set in Asheville, and Hays does a fine job of pulling in the local feel of the town with its bookstores and coffee shops. The town’s most famous literary figure, Thomas Wolfe, is also omnipresent throughout. The cemetery where Grover’s mother is buried also contains Wolfe’s family. And Grover and his sister are named after characters in Wolfe’s most famous novel, Look Homeward, Angel.
Hays is the Executive Director of the Great Smokies Writing Program and teaches at UNC Asheville. His previous novel, The Pleasure was Mine, was a wonderful story of loss and connection and the importance of family, and was selected for several community-wide reading programs in various cities and counties, including Greenville, SC, and Greensboro, NC.
While What I Came To Tell You is aimed at younger readers, it certainly will catch and keep the interest of readers of all ages. Anyone who believes in the healing power of art, and family and love, will find something here that will touch them and make them glad they’d taken the time read this new gem of a novel by one of North Carolina’s best writers, Tommy Hays.