Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

27746288I finished Goodbye, Vitamin on a screened-in porch on Folly Beach, South Carolina. I didn’t read very much on my vacation. Something about taking a vacation with a family group makes my attention feel very scattered, and I only picked up my books sporadically. But this is a short novel, and I was already a third of the way into it when we left for the beach. I was determined to finish at least one book while I was there. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’m tempted to pick it up again.

Naomi, Deepika, and other bloggers I follow have read and reviewed this one favorably, so I knew I would probably enjoy it, despite the heavy subject matter. Fresh from a really tough break-up with her fiance, Joel, and at an impasse with her career, Ruth comes home (for a year) to help her mom care for her dad, who is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Her dad, a former college professor and recovering alcoholic, is still under the impression he’s teaching classes because some of his students get together and take a fake “class” at various locations so that he’s not miserable. Ruth has a complicated relationship with all of her family members, including her younger brother Linus. In years past, her dad cheated on her mom and then there’s the whole alcoholism thing. But Ruth kind of idolized her father despite all of this, and seeing him decline is heartbreaking.

This sounds like a tremendous bummer. But somehow the mood of the book is never too sentimental or depressing. It’s quirky, because Ruth has a deadpan, matter-of-fact tone, and she is always including these odd little observations of her new strange life that have nothing to do with her family. For instance,

I see, walking on the other side of the street today, a man with enormous pecs. They look as inflated as popcorn bags right after microwaving.

The phrase “born humans” is what I think of whenever I see someone wildly different than me.

Fetal circulation is different from that of born humans. Fetuses have fine hair all over them that born humans don’t have. Fetuses do a thing like breathing that isn’t actually breathing – the motions develop their lungs. They take their first breath  when they’re born and that’s when the whole system changes incredibly: unborn to born.

We’re born humans, I think, about the huge-pec’ed man. With our functioning circulatory systems. Breathing, walking, having real hair. Just look at us.

Ruth is also slowly working her way back into life after the devastating breakup. She is on the verge of being detached, but this is probably a coping mechanism of her situation, I think. Her father gives her a book that he kept when she was little, where he wrote down the cute little things she said and did. That in and of itself is enough to trigger my tear ducts! But then, near the end of the book, Ruth starts keeping a book for her dad of the comical/strange things he says and does. When I realized this, I absolutely BURST into tears. I wailed and said to my husband, who was sitting on the porch next to me, “I don’t know if I can take this!” But I was so close to finishing I pressed on.  It’s a terribly crappy and unfair situation, one that everyone knows won’t have a happy ending. But in concentrating on the little things and living in the present moment every day, Ruth and her family come together in very moving and realistic ways.

In the end I am glad I read this. It was something I wouldn’t have picked up without the recommendation of bloggers I trust. I’m a sensitive reader, I cry easily, and sometimes I tend to shield myself from sad books. This one was really moving and tender without being maudlin or manipulative. I appreciate that so much. Writing this review made me start to cry again, just thinking about Ruth and her dad. Rachel Khong is a talented author who has created a family I didn’t necessarily want to join but one that I definitely believed and cared for. Four stars, sad but worth it.

 

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32 thoughts on “Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

    1. “Sad but worth it” is one of my Goodreads shelf categories. 🙂 Some books are just sad and there’s no upside or redemption. They don’t make it on that shelf. They’re just labeled “sad.”
      We love Folly Beach! It’s the third year we’ve been. Maybe we’ll get tired of it someday, but haven’t yet!

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  1. I’m listening to a Maya Angelou memoir, and people who get upset easily are referred to as “tenderhearted.” That is how I think of you ♥️♥️♥️♥️

    This thing about the students holding pretend class… I’m intrigued. That’s some above and beyond I would never have thought possible.

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    1. 🙂 I think that’s a fair descriptor, Melanie!

      Yes, the pretend classes… there’s an administrator who has it out for her dad, so they’re having to hide from him. They use various unused classrooms and then later on take to having “field trips” off campus. It’s a touching gesture.

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  2. I specifically remember Naomi’s review mentioning that little book that Rachel’s Dad keeps about her, and all the cute things she did as a kid, and I remember getting teary about it. I got a bit teary when you mentioned it too! And although I love the idea of having one of those books, i can’t see myself ever getting around to making one LOL

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  3. Oh gosh, yeah, I know this is a good book because a LOT of bloggers have talked about it, but I think it would be too much for me, even in a vacation environment. I adore my dad, and the idea of him slowly losing his memory just kills me.

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  4. This has been on my tbr for a while, but I haven’t dared touch it yet, because of the reasons you mentioned. You make an excellent case for it though. Perhaps I will give it a try this year 🙂

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  5. After all the wonderful insightful book commentary of March’s TOB, I finally decided THIS was my favorite book – I think the balance of humor and loving comedy on the ‘sad’ topic touched my heart in all the good places.

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  6. Those “odd little observations” were one of the things I liked best about this book. It made it not so overwhelmingly about her dad – other things are going on, too.
    I’m glad you liked it, despite it making you cry. I actually like books that make me cry, and I forget that some people don’t. 🙂

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    1. Tee hee, that made me chuckle. Do you cry easily? I sure do, so it makes me wary of “sad books.” I liked that there was some stuff about Ruth’s life in there too, getting back on track with her own life. It left me with a hopeful impression of her future.

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  7. I am so glad you pushed through and kept reading this, Laila! I am with you– it can be so challenging to read books like this which cover dense, heavy topics. I don’t enjoy feeling sad in my free time. But it sounds like Khong did a wonderful job keeping hope close to the reader, if it wasn’t close to Ruth.

    How do you decide what books to read on vacation?

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    1. I guess I just assess my mood and also see what’s gotta be read before it has to be turned back in to the library! 🙂 I take a few in case I don’t like something. I usually get precious little reading done on vacation, though. Too much cattle-herding, ha ha!

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      1. I believe it! I tend to take library books with me when I travel for vacation, but I only take my Kindle when I travel for work. It’s a weird thing I’ve noticed… Like I feel I’ll be able to get more reading done on vacation than during work trips. And yet, it’s almost always the opposite. XD

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