After reading Tara M. Stringfellow’s multi-generational family saga “Memphis” in April, Jenna Bush Hager chose a touching story about an unlikely friendship that’s sure to put a smile on your face as you read in May.
This month’s Read with Jenna pick is “Remarkably bright creaturesby Shelby Van Pelt.
“This novel is filled with love, humor, joy and healing,” Jenna Bush Hager told TODAY. It demonstrates the power and beauty of unexpected friendships. I can’t wait for this creative and enjoyable story to surprise and delight readers. With Jenna’s book club in May.
Van Pelt’s debut novel tells the story of Tova, a widowed night janitor working at an aquarium in Washington. Tova had taken off work to keep busy, something she’s been trying to do since her 18-year-old son went missing on Puget Sound 30 years earlier.
While working, she strikes up an unexpected but remarkable friendship with a giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus. Marcellus is much smarter than he lets on. After taking a liking to Tova, he helps her uncover the mystery behind her son’s disappearance for years.
“Never since ‘The Life of Pi’ have I found a book with such creativity and such a strong voice,” Jenna said.
The author was first inspired to write the book after seeing a video on the Internet of a giant Pacific octopus trying to get out of its enclosure at the Seattle Aquarium.
“It was so fascinating to watch. I couldn’t let go of the idea that there was a character in there,” Van Pelt said. writing, I was invited to write from an unexpected point of view. That’s when Marcellus came to mind.
Van Pelt also looked to close family for inspiration.
“The character of Tova, who is the oldest woman who cleans at the aquarium, was loosely based on my grandmother who passed away a few years ago,” Van Pelt said. “She was an immigrant from Sweden. She liked to clean. She just got busy to pass the time. She kind of had this stoic shell around her. She was very, very kind and warm, but there was always that kind of screen in front of her and I never really got to break through it in her lifetime. I think part of me, writing the story, wanted to write a character where I could drill into him a bit and see what might happen if you crack open that shell.
The first novelist hopes readers will bond with her flawed characters.
“I just want people to know that this is a very real book,” Van Pelt said. “It’s about heavy stuff, but it’s also meant to be a really fun book. I think if you can let go of the idea of an octopus telling you a story and have fun with it, I hope it’ll be a read enjoyable for everyone.
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