Dede Montgomery’s Beyond the Ripples (Bink Books, 2019) is a lovely story about making connections with unlikely people and how these connections teach us to open ourselves up to forgiveness, courage, and the acceptance of others.
It all begins with a message in a bottle. Anne is a young teen with a drunken dad, quite often finding herself in the middle of marital fights, beer being guzzled, and embittered talk by a father who feels he is owed more than he has, looking past his family towards a dream of uncovering hidden money and being rich. Anne is lost, sad, and without much help coming at her from the adults around her. She writes a letter and places it in a bottle in the hopes that it will make it to Japan, where it will be discovered by someone her age who will understand her plight and respond. But it gets stuck in Oregon, discovered by Ernest, an older man living out his life in peace. Moved by her letter, he responds with kindness and advice, sending it to her home long after she has moved away. Sarah finds it, and when she looks for Ernest, he has already died, connecting instead with his daughter Amelia. What begins as chance results in a deep friendship between two adult women from different sides of life, existing with their own insecurities and conflicts.
The bottle becomes an anchor, the main object that connects these strangers and reveals to us people in pain, in loss, in need of contact with other human beings that can see them and relate to them. It is about connecting and opening up to possibilities and potential these characters have overlooked. In a chance meeting over a message in a bottle they ensure finds its way to the young girl who had sent it when she needed it most, Amelia and Sarah find a friendship that opens them up to courage. Sarah finds the courage to forgive her mother, kick her abusive boyfriend out of her home, and find a job outside of her small town, expanding the margins of her potential farther than she had ever imagined. Amelia finds the courage to volunteer at a senior home and interact with older men and women, connecting with them in the way she never connected with her own mother before she died. It’s a story about many stories related to women’s lives, daughters and mothers, and how they find the strength to be more compassionate towards themselves and finding their own self-worth.
With great and detailed backstories that bring these characters to life, Montgomery sends the universal message that we cannot live a full and contented life in isolation. We need each other — people to witness us, to help us, to guide us, and sometimes, these people are not our closest friends or family. It’s people outside of our circle looking for the same things we’re looking for: human connection. This is a warm and well-structured novel with a life-affirming message worth the read.