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The Two Lives of Sara

Months ago, I dubbed this book my most anticipated new release of 2022. I pre-ordered a copy from Black Garnet Books in Minneapolis and was lucky enough to get an e-galley through Net Galley. The universe was telling me I would love this book and boy, were they right.

Looking for a book that will emotionally drain you and leave your heart shattered on the floor. I give you The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West. I finished this one last night and the ending left me slack jawed. I was reading an e-galley on my new Kindle Paperwhite and swore that there was an issue with the download. Surly this could not be the end of the book?! I grabbed my physical copy off my shelves, turned to the last page and discovered...that was it. That was the last sentence. The story was done. I feel like I'm still reeling from that abrupt ending. I NEED CLOSURE!

Sara King is prickly and keeps things close to her chest. She is not one to show love and affection easily and it is clear from the beginning that she has been through hell. As the reader gets to know this young mother and her baby, Lebanon, we learn that she came to Memphis from Chicago after an abrupt departure. The reason for her leaving and the history that haunts her unfolds throughout her story. She is a hard one to love, but a character that you root for. When things are going good for her, it feels so good, but when things turn south, it shatters your heart. I was so invested in her and I am not exaggerating when I say that I feel emotionally burnt out from this rollercoaster of a book. Sara tries to outrun her past and reckon with the person she was before and after her child, Lebanon. What mother cannot relate to that?

The Two Lives of Sara is a prequel to West's knockout debut novel, Saving Ruby King. To be honest, I did not put two and two together, but after reading my past review, I realized the connections. Both stories delve deeply into generational trauma, addiction, abuse, love and grief.

There are a few content warnings to be aware of, including, sexual abuse, addiction, death, miscarriage, and neglect.


Sara King has nothing, save for her secrets and the baby in her belly, as she boards the bus to Memphis, hoping to outrun her past in Chicago. She is welcomed with open arms by Mama Sugar, a kindly matriarch and owner of the popular boardinghouse The Scarlet Poplar.

Like many cities in early 1960s America, Memphis is still segregated, but change is in the air. News spreads of the Freedom Riders. Across the country, people like Martin Luther King Jr. are leading the fight for equal rights. Black literature and music provide the stories and soundtrack for these turbulent and hopeful times, and Sara finds herself drawn in by conversations of education, politics and a brighter tomorrow with Jonas, a local schoolteacher. Romance blooms between them, but secrets from Mama Sugar's past threaten their newfound happiness with Sara and Jonas soon caught in the crosshairs, leading Sara to make decisions that will reshape the rest of their lives.


4.5 stars

Favorite Quotes:

"Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there's a way to unite my two lives, who I was with who I am now. Maybe it doesn't have to be a choice at all."

"Once we're comfortable, we think things will always be as they are, even though the very experience of humanity continues to show us otherwise."

More books by Catherine Adel West:

Saving Ruby King

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