At the beginning of VIVIE’S SECRET, the first-person narrator, presumably a stand-in for the author, Terry Lee Caruthers, rushes to her friend Vivie’s bedside just before her death. In her last moments, Vivie reveals the location of a notebook containing her life story, which makes up the majority of the novel. The plot is a fictionalized version of the real events that defined the author’s friend Vivie’s life.
In the novel, Vivie fled Hungary when she was 12 years old with her mother, father, and little sister Mae during the Revolution of 1956. Their escape is suffused with dramatic tension as they hide from the Soviet soldiers and the night air is punctuated by gunfire. The level of vivid detail provided in these scenes intensifies the suspense. Just when they think they’ve made it to safety, the family is roughed up by thugs, their identity papers are stolen, and then Vivie’s mother falls desperately ill. Vivie ultimately escapes to the United States, sponsored by American relatives, but she does so alone.
Though this part of the plot would have been enough to fill a novel, the author continues, narrating Vivie’s teen year and adult years as she comes of age in America, far from the people she loves most in the world. It’s an inspiring story of resilience and its darker moments are tempered by scenes depicting Vivie’s greatest passion: cats. When the family fled Hungary, they were forced to leave behind Vivie’s beloved black Norwegian Forest cat, Norsk. But wherever they go, be it a Red Cross refugee camp or the shelter of a barn off the beaten path, Vivie encounters a cat (or several) that is in need of friendship and kindness just as she is.
The second half of the book’s plot drags at times as Vivie gets acclimated to her new life in America, but it is a joy to see Vivie’s passion reignite as she becomes increasingly involved with tending to feral cats in adulthood. The author even includes a considerable amount of helpful information about trap-and-release and other components of looking after ferals.
VIVIE’S SECRET is a thrilling, inspirational coming-of-age story that will appeal to young readers and adults alike; cat lovers will be especially moved.
~Lisa Butts for IndieReader