The Year of Necessary Lies – Kris Radish

“I believe we all have a duty, a deep obligation, to help others no matter the cost, for that is the real reason we even exist. One of us is no better than the rest. We- every race, nationality, and gender- we are all the same under the very beautiful skies where the birds you love so well should fly free.” (TYONL, pg 148)

Although my book list is extremely long, I often get side tracked by interesting sounding novels. I found The Year of Necessary Lies by Kris Radish at my local library when I was making a return. WOW!! How thankful I am that this book called to me, because it packed such a powerful punch, and a wonderful message!

This story is told in a fashion that I have not yet experienced as a reader. The story is told from Kelly Briton, who is actually the great-granddaughter of the main character of the novel (Julia).

Kelly, like all of their family, has grown up listening her great-grandmother tell of the most important 365 days in her life. This time span would forever be known as “The Year”. When Kelly, at a young (and turbulent) age, stumbles upon recordings of her great-grandmother retelling the story of The Year, she finds that there is so very much that Julia has omitted from her story telling. Although she is a nosy teenager, when she first finds the recordings and uncovers the truth about The Year, life, various events, and emotions keep her from listening to all the recordings. It is not until 30 years later, many years after the death of Julia and days following the death of her grandmother, does Kelly remember the tapes. She, and her mother, join together to finish the *true* story of Julia’s Year.

Julia’s story is SO empowering. Julia grew up in the lower poverty side of town. Her family was not dirt poor, but they definitely struggled to make ends meet. In an effort to become college educated and possibly a journalist, Julia took a job at a publishing company (thanks to her very close mother). Shortly thereafter, she met her husband Charles Briton. Described as handsome and charming, he was already the image of every woman’s dream… add to that, he was a heir to a very well known business in the Boston area (a millinery business in fact)! From the moment they laid eyes on one another, it was love at first sight. *queue the typical from poor to rich, teaching of societal obligations, and a resentful mom-in-law*. The Year begins precisely when Julia has suffered her 3rd miscarriage in 1904. Lost in grief, Julia searches for meaning in the world. She begins to appreciate the birds and the land. She also begins to question why tradition dictates so much in her modern society. Assisted by her M-I-L, Julia begins to find the truth in what Charles does (millinery) and finds the repercussions of his work to be monstrous. She is faced with a chance to save the birds she cares so much about, but at the risk of forever losing her husband (not to mention the love of her family, or her new found social status).

So, that would be the best way I can explain this book without giving too much of it away. There is so much that this book covers, it is insane. I’m not even sure I can form all my thoughts about it in one sitting! Some of the main underlying plots that stick out to me include :

  • Women’s rolls in 1904 society
  • The repercussions of the choices of the millinery industry, as well as the fashion industry, on the environment and wildlife
  • The rippling effect that grief and love can provide in one’s life

Radish does such a beautiful job of shaping Julia’s character from a naive, grief stricken mother to a powerful, brave woman. During her Year, Julia fights the connotation that women should only be subservient to their husbands. In this time era, it is even inappropriate for a woman to be walking alone. The clearly defined roles are highlighted throughout the book. Julia is fighting to find her own place in the world when she finds a cause that she is so passionate about… Preserving and saving the birds (the very birds her husband’s company uses for hat production)! She literally risks it all to follow her heart, regardless of the effects. I think it would be safe to assume that all people want to have a basic meaning in their life, and Julia defies what is normal to find that meaning and change the world!

Radish also brings to light the repercussions of the millinery business during the time era. How unusual it is to think people ever thought it necessary to wear dead birds or their feathers to be considered fashionable. This fact makes one pause to consider the frivolousness that is the fashion industry. To me, the entire book highlights the parallels that exists in modern times with the fashion of 1904. Although wearing animal products is most often frowned upon now, I can see the likeness of using make-up that is tested on animals, or (to step even further) it definitely mirrors the inhumanity of using sweatshops for production of fashion products. Just as the novel suggest that birds matter like people do, shouldn’t people now matter like birds did then? Although it may be a characteristic that some of modern civilization lacks, Radish gave Julia the humanity to understand that all life matters and the act of preserving it and helping it flourish is most important- and what a beautiful sentiment that is.

Emotions push Julia to make the decisions that she does throughout the whole novel. The biggest emotion she carries at the beginning is grief. The desolation that she feels after the loss of her 3rd child pushes her to attempt to find meaning in other ways. If it had not been for the tragic loss of her children, she would more than likely have stuck to a traditional lifestyle of child-rearing and house wife. I’m sure Radish does not discredit that lifestyle, but it seems that Julia is restless in this simple definition of life. Do not be fooled though, because love is also the all powerful mover in this novel! Talk about a hidden love story!!! Ha! Not only does Julia fall in love, but she became enamored with a plethora of characters that she meets along the way! She feels an overwhelming amount of love for her new found friends, along with appreciation and closeness. She finds a soulmate and new trusted confidants that push her unto her destiny. Lest we forget about her love for birds! Even if all people failed, there would always be her beautiful birds.

 

All in all, this book was brilliant. Radish did such a great job tying in all these era-specific obstacles. I’ve never been so grateful for birth control, cars, and the ability to vote!! This book reminds people that even if you run into restrictions, you should always take the chance to follow your heart. Fight for the cause, and stand up even if you stand alone (thankfully, Julia found out there were many already standing before her… how odd would it have been if she found she was the only one to care? That would be an interesting novel, indeed…) I certainly shared in the emotions in this book. It was a very heartwarming novel, that’s for sure!

I would definitely suggest this book! Check one more to add to my personal bookshelf!

 

Have you read this novel (or perhaps you would like to)? Please, leave a comment and share your thoughts! Happy Friday, y’all!

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