Drama / Mystery

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes

Written by: Ruth Hogan

Published By: Crooked Lane Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

               I was looking for something different to read when I came across The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan, author of The Keeper of Lost Things.  I had heard great things about The Keeper of Lost Things and thought it might be interesting to read her new novel, especially thanks to the flowery cover and the tag line: “They say friends make life worth living.”  That tag line definitely sold me.

               The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes is actually a tale about two women whose lives are intertwined, though neither really has met the other.  First, there is Masha who has been drowning a bit every day thanks to a tragic event that took place twelve years ago.  It was on this day that her son drowned in the nearby lake.  Though she has a faithful companion in her dog Haizum and her best friend Edward, Masha can’t get past the grief of losing her child and finds solace only in two places: the local town pool and the cemetery.

               It is here that she meets an elderly woman who sings to the crows whilst feeding them.  The woman looks like a bag lady and talking to her proves to be quite an interesting prospect, especially when her words get twisted, but Masha finds that the woman she has secretly named Sally Red Shoes is quite the character…someone she would actually like to get to know.  As it turns out, Sally has some secrets to share about love, life and moving past grief.

               Meanwhile, Alice is a single mom, happily raising her son alone for the last twelve years.  Mattie finds her a tad bit overprotective, but he loves her just the same.  But Alice has been carrying a secret with her, one that threatens to overwhelm her when she discovers that her health is not what she thought it was.  Though she tries to avoid it, there is no getting away from the inevitable, she will have to let the secret out for Mattie's own good.

               As I started reading this book, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into.  First, I read about a seemingly crazy old woman running at top speed down a hill in a cemetery and then feeding the crows who eventually perch on her arms.  Then, there was Masha, silently attempting to discover what it is like to drown in a freezing pool every day.  And then, there was Alice, who seemed to have the world going for her, despite her teenage son's mood swings.

               But the further on I read, the more I realized that this book was about how different people deal with grief.  Some lock it up inside, unable to get past it, but unable to really face it full on.  Often times, those people are the ones that commit suicide, but in Masha’s case, thought she gets close with each time she attempts to understand what her son might have felt drowning, she never quite goes that far.  In her case, Masha is simply stuck in place, never really progressing forward in life, because she is to afraid to move on.  Her friend, Sally, and another eccentric, artistic individual she meets along the way, help Masha to realize that there is strength in moving forward.  You are not leaving the person you lost behind, but honoring them by continuing to live.

               In Alice’s case, grief is not readily apparent until she becomes ill.  Then we realize there is a secret in addition to the cancer that she has been hiding from her son that has been gnawing at her for years and is deeply rooted in grief.  Alice never really faced that grief – she kept trying to move forward, but with each instance of loss, she found she, too, was stuck.  But she handles things much differently than Masha.  In the end, Alice’s story is much more tragic than Masha’s as she never really climbs out of that grief hole she has been stuck in.

               Once I got past the first couple of chapters and realized the depth of emotion in what I was reading, I was hooked.  There is drama and a bit of mystery in this novel.  I enjoyed taking the journey with Masha as she unraveled the mystery behind Sally Red Shoes.  I also found Masha’s cemetery travels and musings to be quite humorous.  Even more enjoyable was trying to unravel what Masha and Alice had in common – there’s a surprise twist that I figured out halfway through, but many might not get it until the last chapters.

               The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes is an incredible journey in which we learn how different people handle grief, but most importantly, the importance of dealing with grief and still being able to truly live your life without finding yourself just going through the motions.  An excellent read that I would recommend to anyone.


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