Linda Holmes’s novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, is a fun, enjoyable summer read that pulls you into its heart and holds you there.
Evvie Drake Starts Over was written by Linda Holmes and narrated by Julia Whelan.
Content & Storytelling – (4/5)
Evvie Drake is about to leave her husband when he’s killed in a car accident. The book takes you through the two years after his death, specifically how Evvie copes with the dishonesty and guilt she carries forward, not having told anyone– not even her best friend– that she was going to make a run for it.
Evvie is offered relief from the pity of her hometown gossip mill when Dean Tenney moves in. Tenney is a major league pitcher who lost his ability to throw accurately, a man who was forced to prematurely retire in disgrace. Evvie and Dean make a deal: Evvie will lease the apartment in the too-large house she used to share with her late husband if they can agree not to ask each other about the off-limits topics of her late husband and his unceremonious removal from baseball.
The plot takes you along, shifting smoothly from Evvie’s point of view to Dean’s. Both characters face the trials you may expect: Evvie has to reckon with dishonesty and guilt, and how the two feed off of one another. Dean has to come to terms with losing control of his career, what it means to get a second chance, and what it means to fail.
A romance does bloom between the two main characters in the ways you would expect for a delightful beach read. And it’s a relief, that the story doesn’t try to find a new and revolutionary way to paint a romance into the story arc. This book’s adherence to expectations is what makes it so enjoyable– it doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is: a thoroughly satisfying and uplifting summer read.
What did surprised and delighted me was the weight added to the end of the novel in its stance on mental health. A more serious book may have tried to make Evvie’s character evolution all about acknowledging an often overlooked facet of abuse: emotional abuse. Instead, Evvie Drake Starts Over hums a song of empowerment through seeking emotional support and medical intervention in a normalized, non-stigmatized way. The character didn’t need more severe trauma to push her to therapy, nor did she need a truly catastrophic heartbreak to drive her to “fix” herself. Instead, this story is one of a woman dealing with the curveballs life throws at her, taking it in imperfect stride, and ultimately finding her agency and her power to move her life in the directions that suit her passions and purpose.
The only wish I had for the book would be that the supporting cast of characters– the parents, the girlfriends, the townspeople– would have a layer or two more of depth. Missing for me were the small mannerisms and signifiers that turn archetypal supporting characters into people who feel real, and immerse you in their world. But even then, they were only barely missing. Holmes did a lovely job sweeping her readers up and into the world of coastal Maine.
Length & Pacing – (5/5)
I loved the pace of this book. It wasn’t too long, and it wasn’t too fast. I worried toward the end that the book was wrapping up before the characters were going to end up where I dearly wanted them to be when the last line fell, but Holmes moved everyone through the story at just the right clip.
The only parts for me that moved too slowly were the descriptions of the Spring Dance baseball game, and that has very little to do with Holmes writing, which remained engaging and compelling. I’m just not a lover of sports; I’d have skimmed that passage no matter what book it had been in. In fact, my attention to and love of the overall story that was so heavily featured on a former professional athlete speaks to the fact that Holmes wrote a really, really great story.
If you can get a reader like me (with a bias toward nonfiction, and toward fantasy if I’m going to jump over that fence) to sit up and pay attention to the “sports stuff” in a plot, you’re doing something very right.
Narration & Writing – (4/5)
Julia Whelan won the 2019 Audie Award for Best Female Narrator (for her performance of Educated by Tara Westover, which also won in the Autobiography / Memoir category) and honestly, it’s not hard to see why. She lends her voice to Evvie Drake starts over in a way that brings not just Evvie but all the characters to life.
First, there’s Whelan’s silky narrator voice, in that when she’s speaking the non-dialogue passages in the text, her voice is smooth and a little deep and confident. It tells you the story with authority, and humor, and just the right amount of heart.
Then, she gets you with her impeccable Maine accent. I almost died the first time Evvie’s father had dialogue lines because Whelan flipped from her silky narrator tones to a Maine lobster-man accent like it was nothing, like it was the most natural thing in the world for her to speak in such a heavy dialect. And then back again, like it was the most natural transition in the world. And perhaps that’s a nod to the post-production team’s talents, but I don’t think you can end up with something that reads so seamlessly without an exceptionally talented narrator who handles the dialogue with confidence to start.
And finally, she distinguishes her female characters and male characters in a way that reads as natural, and distinct for each. I knew who was speaking even through the group conversation dynamics based solely on her intonation.
And the differences were not caricatures of voices, but rather felt distinct and natural for the characters themselves. Each sounded like I expected him or her to sound, which really speaks to reinforce Whelan’s awesome talent.
Overall – (4.5/5)
This was a sweet and fun and grounding read. I loved the imperfections of the cast, and I will forever be smitten by Julia Whelan’s talent as a narrator. I’m already eager for Linda Holmes’s next novel. In the meantime, I will gladly re-read Evvie Drake Starts Over, while recommending it to all my girlfriends who like Chick Lit, need something fun for their Book Clubs, or enjoy an endearing story with a sporty twist.
Official Description: In a sleepy seaside town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her large, painfully empty house nearly a year after her husband’s death in a car crash. Everyone in town, even her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and Evvie doesn’t correct them.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Dean Tenney, former Major League pitcher and Andy’s childhood best friend, is wrestling with what miserable athletes living out their worst nightmares call the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and, even worse, he can’t figure out why. As the media storm heats up, an invitation from Andy to stay in Maine seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button on Dean’s future.
When he moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken—and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. To move forward, Evvie and Dean will have to reckon with their pasts—the friendships they’ve damaged, the secrets they’ve kept—but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance—up until the last out.
A joyful, hilarious, and hope-filled debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over will have you cheering for the two most unlikely comebacks of the year—and will leave you wanting more from Linda Holmes.