Monday, January 23, 2023

"What Remains of Elsie Jane" by Chelsea Wakelyn - Book Review and Discussion


Curious about the debut novel "What Remains of Elsie Jane" by Chelsea Wakelyn - what worked for me as a reader and what I struggled with during this book? Keep reading to find out!



What Remains of Elsie Jane 

by Chelsea Wakelyn

goodreads // amazon // library

Sam is dead, which means that Elsie Jane has just lost the brilliant, sensitive man she planned to grow old with. The early days of grief are a fog of work and single parenting. Too restless to sleep, Elsie pores over Sam‘s old love letters, paces her house, and bickers with the ghosts of Sam and her dead parents night after night. As the year unfolds, she develops an obsession with a local murder mystery, attends a series of disastrous internet dates in search of a “replacement soulmate,” and solicits a space-time wizard via Craigslist, convinced he will help her forge a path through the cosmos back to Sam.

Examining the ceaseless labour of motherhood, the stigma of death by drug poisoning, and the allure of magical thinking in the wake of tragedy, "What Remains of Elsie Jane" is a heart-splitting reminder that grief is born from the depths of love. ( from



Book Review and Discussion of
"What Remains of Elsie Jane"
by Chelsea Wakelyn



What Worked for Me

Solid three star read After reading 'What Remains of Elsie Jane" I gave the book three stars. There are a lot of things about this book that worked well for me but there were also things I really struggled with while reading. Generally speaking, it isn't one I would push for other readers to pick up. However, because this book is own voices - the author experienced the loss of her spouse to a similar circumstance - I would suggest this book if the story were especially close to a reader's own life experience and they might find the main character's journey especially relatable and useful.

Own voices experience While the author makes it clear in the introduction that this is not an autobiography, some of the elements of her life and the main character overlap. Most notably, both the author and main character lost their spouse to drug poisoning, and both had children to parent after that loss. It felt like when the author leaned into those lived experiences the book really was impactful. I was struck by how accurate the author's portrayals of dealing with co-parenting alongside someone with an addiction felt. Balancing protecting her children, feeling hurt, and yet also still loving her partner through their addiction.

Hilarious dating scene insights Every now and then I get a peek into what dating right now is like, and I just can't even believe the struggles. I absolutely loved how accurately and humorously the author portrayed re-entering the dating scene. I can only imagine how incredibly disheartening and soul-crushing that would be after thinking you were done and had found your soulmate; someone who you share children with and have shared all of your stories and truly, deeply knows you to what is a literal, and sometimes deeply unpleasant, stranger, especially with how much dating has changed in the last decade! I imagine I would just not even try so I was particularly drawn to just how determined the main character felt about filling that hole in her life, and how miserably and hilariously it went at each try.


What I Struggled With 

Edgy, quirky language There were two big elements that didn't mesh well and took me out of the story while reading 'What Remains of Elsie Jane". Elsie is quirky and edgy and in order to read from her point of view for hundreds of pages, she really needed a straight man or woman to balance out that eccentricity whether brought on by grief or just her normal personality. Reading the novel though, you don't get the feeling that that was Sam, her parents, or her sister, but maybe just her sanity is so far gone through her grief that she is the most eccentric version of herself. But without that other person balancing her, it was hard to read for hundreds of pages which I think is also why I enjoyed the dating parts so much. It brought her back to reality in a humorous and much needed way!

Parenting through grief should've been more of a focus The author of "What Remains of Elsie Jane" infrequently told and rarely showed just how difficult parenting two children would be after losing your co-parent. I think that Elsie's interactions with her children about their grief and her own would realistically have been some of the most emotionally difficult for the character and I wish more of that had been included. Without spoilers, these relationships are particularly important considering how the book ends. I think more moments with her children throughout the novel would have connected more of the dots and really deepened the emotional impact of the book.

Have you read "What Remains of Elsie Jane" by Chelsea Wakelyn? Leave a comment below and let me know about your reading experience! Or comment letting me know your favorite novel dealing with parenting and grief. I'd love to add it to my TBR! Thanks for reading, readers! 


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