Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Katherine Center’s Hello Stranger. The book will be published next Tuesday, July 11!
Every time I pick up a new book by Katherine Center, I’ve come to expect joy. In 2020, when we interviewed her for the Unabridged Podcast upon the release of What You Wish For (shameless shoutout—you can listen here: https://www.unabridgedpod.com/post/134-whatyouwishfor-katherinecenter), Center talked explicitly about working toward joy, both in her life and her writing. She said, “[O]ne of the things that I really wanted to write about in this book in particular, like the kind of the place where I started with the story, was I wanted to write about joy. . . . [W]hen you find the right story for you, whatever that story is that you need at that particular moment in your life, it's so satisfying that it feels like joy.”
With Center’s new book Hello Stranger, that feeling of joy was in full effect for me. At times, I was giddy as I read about Sadie Montgomery’s fierce attempts to wrestle back control over her life, her relationships, and her career—to find joy in the face of adversity.
Sadie is a portrait artist on the cusp of finding the success she’s dreamed of ever since the tragic death of her mother—also a portrait artist—when she was a child. Her relationship with her father has never been what she wanted, and her relationships with her stepmother and stepsister are downright confrontational. But she has a good friend, Sue, and a sweet, aging dog she loves and a place to live and work (thanks to some gracious rule breaking from Sue’s parents, her unofficial landlords).
And then she falls one day, merely walking across the street, and everything changes.
Sadie finds out that she needs immediate brain surgery, and while the surgery is successful, it results in prosopagnosia. Face blindness. She can’t recognize anyone’s face, even her own, and she certainly can’t paint portraits, which means that the art competition on which she was counting is going to be a real challenge.
The situation unfurls from there, of course, complicated by a potential romance with her dog’s veterinarian and a burgeoning friendship with the superficially-jerky-but-maybe-not neighbor who turns out to be pretty helpful when she needs it.
In retrospect, there were a few elements of the plot that stretched my credulity just a bit, but they didn’t impact my reading experience at all. The story here is gorgeous and sometimes heart wrenching but ultimately joyful. Center considers the impact of Sadie’s face blindness on her life and her career and her relationships with great sensitivity, making excellent use of the need for Sadie to see things differently both literally and figuratively.
I loved Hello Stranger.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.