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The Tin Box    by Holly Kennedy order for
Tin Box
by Holly Kennedy
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Tin Box opens as a pleasant suburban woman named Kenly (married to Ross, with soccer-playing son Connor and a dog named Motley) agonizes over revealing a secret that may destroy the ideal life that means everything to her. It can't be so bad, the reader thinks, can it?

Then Holly Kennedy takes us back sixteen years to a younger Kenly's life with an alcoholic father, who is repeatedly fired from teaching jobs, resulting in a nomadic, unstable existence for his daughter. But their latest move, to Athabasca in northern Alberta, Canada (with a population of nineteen hundred) turns out very different from the desolate experience that Kenly anticipated. There, she becomes part of a community. She befriends disfigured, wise beyond his years Tommy, who has an amazingly upbeat attitide despite a horrible degenerative disease that severely limits his options and lifespan. They become very close. Holly also finds a sister in Lexie, from a background that's just as dysfunctional as her own. Lexie says that sisters 'have to support each other through all of life's ups and downs, even when one of them tanks or makes a really bad decision.'

The titular tin box was Tommy's. He filled it with small reminders of 'those moments that fill you up so you can't speak, the ones you go back and visit when your heart needs a little salve or you need a reminder of what living is all about.' When Kenly eventually leaves Athabasca for a new life in Chicago, Tommy gives her a tin box to fill with her own life memories. Taking a college business program, Kenly meets Ross Lowen, 'gorgeous and a brilliant overachiever', and they both fall hard and fast. They marry and have a son, Lexie shares their life, and Kenly keeps in touch with Tommy, mainly by phone as his health steadily deteriorates. What could go wrong with this ideal existence? Of course, things do as in any life, and the couple cope well with them, despite the secret niggling away at Kenly's peace of mind.

The Tin Box is a beautiful story, full of surprises, that will take you through at least one full box of tissues. Having despised her father throughout childhood, Kenly ultimately discovers that she's more like him than she realized. And she carries Tommy's words with her. He reminds us all to not take for granted what we'd put in a tin box - 'those moments that leave you speechless, a love that won't let go, the hearty laughter of your friends, the traditions we repeat, and the memories we relive over and over, because we can.'

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